I'm Dale Vest. Decorative painting and plastering company owner and long, (very long) time vintage clothing collector and enthusiast. I've been collecting, studying, freaking out over, buying and selling vintage clothing for about 30 years. I live in Kansas City.
When did the vintage craze begin?
I'm sure if there's such a thing as a vintage 'craze' that it started generations ago. There's likely always been odd-balls and eccentrics who were into older fashion and style for one reason or another. I think that might partially be explained by some folks having, for lack of a better word, an elevated sense of style, and possibly an obsession with the aesthetics of quality, colour, textures and the minutiae of construction detail.
I got involved in the buying/selling/acquiring part of the equation in the 1970s as a pragmatic decision. It was really independent of noticing anyone else doing it. I simply wanted to own lots of the clothing things I liked. The concept of 'collecting' hadn't entered my head just yet. So in order to own more stuff, I needed money to buy. I'm pretty sure I was only peripherally aware of the fact pieces were 'vintage' at the time. To my mind they just seemed different, but different better.
As far as vintage inspired or reproduction pieces being made, I only became aware of that in the last 10 years or so. I'd have never guessed it would even happen. Shows what I know.
Why did you get interested in vintage menswear?
When I was about 12 or 13 years old my grandmother gave me a jean jacket she'd bought at a thrift store. I remember my mother being slightly embarrassed because at the time 'thrift' stores were, in her opinion, for poor people. But my Grandmother grew up in the 30s and had learned thrift and bargain hunting were survival necessities so she had no qualms about it. I just thought the thing was pretty cool.
It was a white Levis pique jacket and I'd never seen anything like it before. That was really the start for me. I began hitting thrift stores regularly by age 16 or so. This was the early 70s and I discovered I could buy an old WW2 army jacket or something that looked cool for a buck and then turn around and sell it to friends in middle school for 5 bucks. Old army jackets, jean jackets and other funky attire were the uniform for all us mid-western long haired hippie wannabes. The accidental entrepreneur, do-it-yourself story for sure.
When did you start collecting?
I started 'collecting' right out of the gate. In the 1970s. I actually have a few pieces I got then. But I really started focusing when I discovered vintage rayon shirts. In particular, Gabardine shirts. Flap pocket or button-through style, heavy weight gab. I really loved the drape and style of 40s-50s rayon gab and how you could wear them tucked or un-tucked. And of course always with Levis. I still do. At one time I must have had nearly every color made. Maybe a hundred or so shirts. The local newspaper even did a back page article about my shirt 'thing'. It was complete with a photo of me surrounded by shirts. I think I still have about 25 of them. Honestly though, they're only good here in this climate about 2 months of the year.
Then in the early 1980s I met an out of town guy who'd stopped in at the local vintage clothing store I'd started consigning pieces to. He asked me if I was aware of what he called 'Levis Big E's'. He took me out to his car and showed me several pieces he'd just picked up. He schooled me in the details of what to look for and enough of the basics to get going. After about and hour of conversation I was a smitten. For better or worse my life took a new turn. Looking back I realise now what the guy had gifted me, but he never asked me for anything. Just left town that day and was gone. It was pretty fortuitous.
Now I'd been wearing what we'd called 'button-up's', shrink to fit Levis since the 70s but I'd never looked into the details of why I liked them. Again, they just seemed better to me. Literally within two days I'd found a couple of vintage pairs. This is when things really took off. I quickly discovered that not only were there vast quantities of vintage denim around, there was also serious money involved. Now this was way before the internet and eBay. Literally no one besides two or three other guys in town knew a thing about the Japanese phenomenon going on.
Well within another year or two I'd met a fellow named Stuart that I became good friends with. He'd lived in LA and had recently moved to Lawrence Kansas with his College professor girlfriend. He turned me on to the entire panoply of desirable stuff one could find with a little effort. Jeans were just the tip of the iceberg. Sweatshirts, Nikes, Workwear, Hawaiians and more. He was also a seasoned Rose-Bowl dealer and road warrior. I could go on and on about those days but in a nutshell, he and I would pack up 8 or 10 large shipping boxes every month and head to the airport with tickets to LA and the Rose Bowl flea market. That routine repeated itself 10 or 11 months a year. Those days of plenty were when my collecting really got going.
Tell us about some of the rarer pieces that you have found. What makes them special?
I was lucky enough to have started looking for vintage very early. As a result, I've found a lot of great stuff over the years. I only wish I'd cataloged and photographed more of it. One of my great finds happened by luck some years ago. I stopped in at an antique mall I used to hit in Iowa. In one of the booths I found a very early, as in 1900s, black Stifel workwear jacket, dead-stock with a small paper flasher. It had those crude early stamped steel buttons on it. Stunning. Really stunning. Now this was early-on when people were just becoming aware of Stifel. The interesting thing was that rather than the typical white on blue dot pattern stripe you normally see on Stifel pieces, this one had stripes done in tiny white anchors on the black cotton fabric. An amazing, beautiful contrast. But it gets better. I went to the counter to buy the piece. It was 25 bucks I think. I casually asked the cashier about the person's booth I'd got the piece in and if they could contact him or her about other vintage stuff. To my amazement, the lady got on the phone and called the guy. He told me he'd bought a bunch of the jackets at a recent auction and had just brought one of them to the mall to see if it would sell, being a little dirty from long storage and all. He seemed thrilled that I liked it and said he'd bring the rest of them down to the mall if I'd wait for him. Haha... He came 20 minutes later with, I think, six more of them. Various conditions. All dead-stock but some with fade lines at the folds, a couple with little mouse nibbles at some edges. But I wasn't complaining. I've got dozens of stories like that one. They're getting way less frequent though.
Have you been anywhere recently to look for new stuff?
I don't really range too far from home. I do some road trips but usually confined to a four or five state area. Nowadays road trips are dicey propositions. You can go out for days and barely make gas money if your luck isn't good.
What has been the most expensive vintage piece you have sold? And for how much?
I think vintage Levis are in the top tier of high priced pieces I've sold. $5000 for a decent pair of pants is common. I've had several that made it into the $10k range. Not lately unfortunately.
What advice would you give to new collectors who are just getting into vintage? And why?
Advice for new collectors? Go to college, then get a very good job with lots of disposable income. The days of stumbling into killer pieces in the rough, and paying peanuts are just about over.
What era/style appeals to you most?
I'm a fan of 1900s to 1930s particularly in casual and workwear clothing. In the more tailored styles, I'm 30s to 50s.
What is your ‘go to’ look?
I'm basically a tradesman/artist personality so my go-to is jeans and tee shirt or sweatshirt. In the winter a Patagonia fleece top. Honestly, I seldom dress 'up.' When I do, it's often a pair of starched 40s button fly army khaki 's with a gabardine or cotton shirt. I love wool too in the winter. I've got a healthy arsenal of wool shirts and coats.
What's your favourite garment?
Yikes! Naming my favorite garment is like naming a favorite child. Too many. That's my problem. I love too many pieces. I can say I doooo love a particular 1930s CCC red and black plaid wool A-1 style jacket I picked up a couple of years ago dead-stock. That and a 1st model U.S. Navy Blue deck jacket. And a 30s Filson canvas jacket and so on and on.
How did you discover SJC?
I met Simon online several years ago. I think on the ‘Facebook'. He was nice enough to compliment my taste and a couple of the pieces I'd posted. I found out about his line of clothing and was of course, impressed with his eye for detail and taste. We like the same things and that's about as good a basis for friendship as you'll find. I've never met him in person but we've developed a great internet relationship. He's tolerant of my peccadillo's, my frequent dis-interest in selling good pieces and occasional slow message response times. At least I hope so…
What’s your favourite SJC garment?
I've got two favourite SJC pieces that I really like. The first is the 33 Jacket. I think it's at least partially inspired after a jacket I own. It's really the iconic 30s short-waisted wool jacket. I probably get more compliments wearing it than anything. Well, almost anything. The other is a black wool shawl collar sweater which i consider one of the essential foundations of winter comfort here.