Wanna Dress Vintage Like a Rock Star? Ask One Yourself

By day four of a recent "staycation," my family and I had little to do and less money to do it with. My daughter suggested an afternoon of bargain-hunting in the thrift stores.

Everyone piled into the family vehicle and off we went. She asked what I planned to buy, if anything. I told her, without hesitation, I'd be searching for a concert T-shirt commemorating The Rolling Stones' 1981 American tour.

"O-kayyyy," she said. "Good luck with that."

"Preferably, a jersey, with red or blue sleeves," I said.

"Riiiight," was her response.

On the way to the shop of her choice -- Sand Dollar in The Heights -- I told her I was hopeful I'd find what I was looking for because there must be many, many middle-aged men who are now too fat (or too old) to wear these clothes, which they proudly sported decades ago. Maybe their kids don't care about vintage clothing and, needing to pare down their fashion accouterments, they've foolishly tossed them all into a garbage bag for disposal at the resale shops.

As the song says, my daughter reminded me, one's man trash is another man's come up. So everyone agreed to be on the lookout for any vintage music apparel I might be interested in.

We even decided to consult an expert, so we'd know what to seek out. Meg Michelle Cambern is general manager and merchandiser for a quartet of well-known Lower Westheimer vintage resale shops: Leopard Lounge, Taxi Taxi, Pavement and Blackbird. If anyone knows what music apparel consumers are searching for, it's her.

Cambern's first tip was to not limit my search to stuff on hangers.

"We do sell a lot of band T-shirts, vintage and modern, but people also are looking for patches, buttons, bags, shoes and other things," she said. "The world revolves around music and music plays such a huge part in fashion."

Cambern can say this with utter confidence because she's also a musician. She plays bass for local glam-rockers The Freakouts. The band has a sound that pays homage to their '70s rock idols and a decided look to match.

"I don't believe image is everything, but there's got to be something that separates you from the norm that catches the eye," Cambern said. "We've all dressed the way we do before we were in the band, mainly being influenced by everything punk and rock and roll."

"There's a thousand bands out there doing the same thing you are, it's your personality and image that helps separate you from the others," she added.

While spandex and platform shoes might work for them, I was looking for something modest that would also express how I feel about music. So, I hit the racks looking for apparel representing artists I enjoy. And, as I waded through used 3 Doors Down and Spin Doctors tees, I was beginning to learn something about myself.

My daughter walked over with a four-foot-tall stuffed kangaroo. It had a pouch and a stuffed joey peeking out from it.

"I gotta have this, Dad," she said.

Before I could answer, my son was approaching with a pair of olive-green briefs on a hanger.

"Really?" he asked. "Who is coming to the Sand Dollar to buy underwear?"

Had there been an AC/DC symbol emblazoned across the crotch, I might have spent a dollar or two on them. Not to wear, you know, just to have, in case they had any value to them. Another thing Cambern taught us was vintage music clothing can be worth big bucks.

"Some of the band stuff is considered collector's items more than everyday wear," she says. "I'd say any tour shirt you have, hold on to it. It could be worth good money in the future."

She sent me a link to an article that says a 1976 New York Dolls shirt listed on eBay is commanding more than $2,000. A Runaways tee from 1977 is fetching similar bids. Now I had a new goal in mind. Maybe our broke-ass family outing was about to become one of those moments where an unsuspecting bonehead buys a rare Degas at a garage sale, just because it looks cool.

I wanted to be that bonehead.

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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.