The term “vintage,” like “organic” or “artisanal,” is tossed around so liberally these days, it can mean anything from vaguely old to conspicuously tatty (“oh, the rips are supposed to be there”). Regardless (or perhaps because) of the wanton misrepresentation it suffers from time to time, the world of vintage clothing is loaded with the kind of controversy that inevitably follows the act of differentiating authentic from ersatz. It’s a veritable minefield full of misinformation, pedantic snobbery and opportunities for the layman to feel like an unlearned ass.
“It started out with an interest in fashion and turned into a passion for history.”
Storage & Co., a select shop in Hongdae that specializes in vintage American workwear, is pleasantly void of any of these complications, and it’s successfully doing what so many in their specialty are not—selling niche fashion without any of the shaming or the esoteric hair-splitting. Their aim is pretty straightforward—quality threads with a bit of history, made accessible to all.
“Truth be told, I think that the meaning of ‘vintage’ can be different for everybody,” says owner Min Hyung-jin. “Although the industry defines ‘vintage’ as anything produced between the 1800s to 1970s, I kind of think that prototypical designs, still the foundation for modern fashion, are really the essence of ‘vintage.’ “
Storage & Co.‘s inventory consists of either bona fide vintage items, i.e., actual old stuff pulled out of someone’s closet, or vintage replicas, clothes or shoes made new based on historic designs from yesteryear, mostly by established Japanese replica brands (Japan underwent a vintage “boom” in the 90s and consequently has a panoply of reputable replica vintage brands). Generally speaking, the store stocks anything from the 90s and backwards; a slightly extreme example would be the black leather cap-toe boots from the 1920s on display in their window, with the original shoebox disintegrating in the corner to prove it.
“More than anything, we value originality in our products,” says Min. “Like brands that have been around for a long time with a distinct presence in history, or brands that accurately restore original designs.”
Min’s personal interest is in what most people would call novelty items, which gives the store a bit of a museum-like feel. “It started out with an interest in fashion and turned into a passion for history,” he admits.
“I am especially fond of items from before the 1930s,” says Min. “My favorites in the store right now are probably the 1920s prisoner pants and the 20th century work pants—there’s a lot to discover and learn about them.”
Along with originality, however, durability is the other common denominator in their wares—workwear, after all, had to last above all else—and in keeping with the tradition of workwear, whose development runs parallel with the history of manual labor in America, many of the clothes on display have an interesting back-story.
Min holds up a pair of black oxfords, which he explains were once standard issue for American postmen in the 1950s, and are now celebrated for their polished, crisp look and underfoot comfort (as postmen were on their feet for most of the day). Although mail carriers in the United States have long since been issued newer uniforms, contemporary enthusiasts have found an appreciation for the trim design and comfort of their vintage counterparts.
Though it’s apparent that some of the items at Storage & Co. look a bit too “historic” for the casual browser, not everything is oozing with nostalgia. A good portion of their threads are surprisingly current with a classic appeal, meaning that despite their beginnings in a bygone age, they won’t be going out of style for another few decades—think simple button-ups or jeans.
Not going out of style is key. Cho Seong-woong, who runs Joe’s Garage, the online branch of Storage & Co., calls this “brand identity”—sticking to original, unique designs based on self-designated standards of quality and aesthetic appeal that resist the ebb and flow of fads or profit-chasing marketability.
“These brands have their own quirks that they uncompromisingly maintain,” says Cho. “You get all these details that you notice if you have a real love for their products.” He points to a rack of jeans to demonstrate.
“There are subtle differences in the grain of the denim, stitching, or how they fade over time,” explains Cho. “These details are affected by seemingly insignificant elements, like whether the cotton they use is American, Japanese or Zimbabwean.”
Of course, the guy just browsing because the store caught his eye won’t notice any of that, and both Min and Cho make it clear that tiresome pettifoggery isn’t something they wish to impose on any of their customers.
“There are some stores that just feel intimidating the moment you walk into them,” says Cho. “We’re not trying to do that. Our objective is simply to inspire interest in people.”
“I like clothes that can last for awhile, until they’re completely worn down,” says Min. “My modest hope and calling is to contribute to the launching of American casual workwear as an independent culture of its own, not just another trend, by helping people realize the simple value of quality-made goods.”
Photographs by Chris Da Canha.