Clothes horse that I am, I never really got into vintage clothing. When I was a younger man, “vintage” was a term (often incorrectly) used by Urban Outfitters’ customers to describe a brand-new $40 t-shirt that was distressed to make it look old. I, along with many others, equated “vintage” with “poseur.”
Having matured a little bit (and only a little bit), I’ve since grown an appreciation for true vintage garments and the cult following that surrounds them. While I don’t dress head-to-toe in vintage clothing (though our friend Charles-Philippe often does), I like to pair an item with otherwise modern ones. I see this is a nod to the past while remaining grounded in the present.
I had the pleasure of checking out Briar Vintage, a local shop in Philadelphia that stocks true vintage clothes for men and women. Though based in Philly, they have a global presence. In fact, I heard about the blue blazer I’m going to review via their Instagram page.
If hearing about and buying vintage clothing via the Internet isn’t the height of irony, I don’t know what is.
Men’s Vintage Clothes In Philadelphia
When I saw this sport coat on my Instagram feed, I had to have it:
One reason I was so interested in it was that it was my size. This may seem trivial, but as a short guy who’s reasonably slim, I have difficulty finding clothes in my size. Seeing this advertised as a 34/35 chest got my Spidey Senses tingling. If it were truly my size in the chest and shoulders, it would only need minimal alterations to fit perfectly!
Jacket Color, Material, & Style
I love this jacket for a number of reasons:
- The color is a beautiful, rich navy blue. Not so dark that it’s nearly black, but a deep ocean blue. I’m even hesitant to call it navy.
- It’s a 6×2 double-breasted coat. I love 6×2 double breasted sports jackets.
- Wide peak lapels. On such a stylized piece, it’s fun to have exaggerated details like this. Learn about these with our peak lapels guide.
- It’s velvet. Any fan of Eddie Murphy’s Coming To America knows the quote, “This is beautiful…vat is that, velvet?!” I’ve never owned anything in velvet, so this seemed like a great start.
- It has a center vent. This is very peculiar and technically “incorrect” for a double-breasted coat, but I’ll live.
The Fit & Alterations Needed
When I tried the coat on, I was pretty delighted by how well it fit in the shoulders and chest. It’s a snug fit for sure, which works well for my frame.
As it happens, my hunch that the coat would only need minor alterations was incorrect. However, this is always the risk that you take when buying vintage garments as Charles-Philippe will often lament.
First, the sleeves are too long. Thankfully, this is a very easy alteration to perform. Little in this world looks schlumpier than sleeves that are this long.
Second, the vent opens a fair amount in the back:
This is likely due to what tailors call a “prominent backside.” I’ll have the center seam let out and will see if this allows the jacket to close properly. If it doesn’t, there’s a chance that letting out the center seam and then closing the vent will work.
If these were the only alterations necessary, I’d feel comfortable taking this to a seamstress around the corner from my house, but there’s another one that needs to be done:
The coat is long on me. It finishes well past my hand, nearing the length of a 3/4 length coat. It’s almost as long as a peacoat on me, which indicates to me that this was made for a guy who weighs 130 pounds and is at least 5’10”.
I’m 5’3″, so this happens way more than I’d like it to. It has the effect of making me look even shorter than I already am, essentially turning me into a well-dressed seventh-grader. I’ve been forced to pass up many a jacket in my lifetime as a result of this.
Under normal circumstances, this would have been a deal breaker for me as shortening a coat is what we consider a “last resort” alteration. Not only is it difficult and costly, it will often throw off the balance of the coat, making the buttons and pockets look too close to the hem.
In an incredible stroke of good fortune, the buttons and pockets of this jacket sit higher than expected anyway, so shortening the coat will actually bring them into proportion for me.
While I’m not excited about spending $90-$100 on a job like this, I think it’s worth it for such a unique piece. Also, look at that hourglass shape in the picture above!
Specific Issues With Vintage Clothes
When you buy true vintage items, you’re buying pre-owned clothing. While it’s possible to discern the time period in which it was sold (David says that my jacket is from the 60’s, judging from the union label and its aesthetic details), it’s not as easy to gauge how well the garment was treated by its previous owners. Sometimes, time itself is enough of a factor to cause wear and tear to a piece of clothing.
The hem of the right sleeve of my jacket has what was described to me as a likely scorch mark. See below, inside the white box:
Given the prevalence of smoking up until about twenty years ago, this is an unsurprising defect to find. David told me about it straight away though, offering a discount which I of course happily accepted.
Fun note: shortening the sleeves to accommodate my T-Rex arms will eliminate the scorch mark anyway. Bonus!
Another issue is that the jacket is very, very wrinkled. So much so that it could have been sold as crushed velvet.
This is because it was literally balled up in a bale for years and years. Leaving it on a hanger for a couple of days isn’t going to do the trick here, so I’ll be treating these wrinkles as one would with linen: something that adds character.
Alterations aside, this coat pairs beautifully with lots of other neutral colors such as grey, khaki/tan, and olive or taupe. The blue is even light enough to be worn with black trousers in the evening. I decided to have some fun with it and “summerize” it on an unseasonably mild day.
Note that I’m pairing this vintage jacket with modern pieces. This makes it less of a costume and more of a statement.
Buying vintage clothing can be a really fun experience. You have the opportunity to own something with a true heritage that stood the test of time rather than a brand-new item claiming to be something it isn’t.
However, it’s a process, which requires patience and restraint. You may not always find what you’re looking for and may need to hold back before you find the right item. Buying vintage items can often save you money from modern clothes but if the fit is too off, you’ll blow your budget through alterations.
Likewise, it’s important to keep this in mind when buying vintage garments. As it’s rare that something will fit perfectly, always add a slight mark-up (even in work hours if you’re doing it yourself) to include any touching up after the initial purchase.
Nevertheless, definitely head over to Briar Vintage if you’re in Philadelphia. David and his staff’s expertise and style is great, and he’s an incredibly nice guy to boot. Enjoy the hunt!
Philadelphia, PA 19124
"One of the best vintage locations in Philly! With expert staff and management as well as a rich selection of garments, you'll be walking away happy after a visit to Briar Vintage."Rating: 4.0 ★★★★