OK, I know what you’re thinking: spare me the recommendations to comb through the local Goodwill every couple weekends! No. This isn’t about that. I wouldn’t recommend it anyway. If you look hard enough, maybe you can find something at the ordinary thrift stores, but the risk-reward ratio is far too high for those disorganized, mildew-smelling places. No, what I’m talking about is the real thing – places that offer genuine, vintage clothing from the forties, fifties, sixties and seventies, often originating from locally-run tailor shops long ago or from antique versions of retailers long before this stuff got made in China. With some great diversity of offerings and clever social marketing, there is hope for the local hipster to spontaneously find that perfect one-of-a-kind blazer or pair of shoes and gleefully walk out with them. We tell you about two great vintage clothing places in the South Bay, and probably the only ones that exist down here right now – Black & Brown in San Jose, and Empire Vintage Clothing in Mountain View.
Located outside of the moribund San Jose downtown in a good walking district, from the inside Black & Brown simply doesn’t look like it belongs in San Jose. It fits in better someplace like Portland, OR or Boston, because it actually presents the image of urban cool that you don’t see around here all that much. That said, I’m glad it’s here. It’s a very tasteful, well-organized 5000 sq. ft. warehouse space for both men and women to shop for vintage clothing and shoes. And this is no Goodwill we’re talking about here. The men’s and women’s sections are cleverly spread out against parallel walls. Unlike a lot of places, they actually make sure things are organized by sizes and provide lots of nice seating areas for people to chill and scope out their prospective purchases.
The best part is how the people at Black and Brown filter out the crap. The first time I walked in here, I stumbled on a dark blue sharkskin wool blazer, with brilliantly narrow lapels, made in the fifties by a local tailor in Los Gatos. It fit me as though my tailor had made it for me, proper sleeve length and all. As a bonus, the shop had a pair of black size 8 antique 60’s Allen Edmonds oxfords sitting on their well-organized shelf, in near-mint condition. I cannot imagine where they found them. (The other day, I found an antique tie with the label “Union Made” on it. Can you imagine that happening now?)
Of course I grabbed those too. You really need to check this place out. It’s elegant, cool and tasteful. Great selection of casual dress shirts too.
Black and Brown – 850 The Alameda, San Jose, CA, 95126 (408) 298-1970 Wed.-Sun. 11-8
Tiffany, the proprietress at Empire Vintage, has her organization down. Like Black and Brown, she deals in antique, collectible and vintage clothing, and apparently possesses virtually a warehouse full of items dating clear back to the Forties, for both men and women. When I first found Empire Vintage, I was in the beginning stages of rebuilding my wardrobe, and stumbled on their original tiny storefront in Palo Alto where Empire started up several years ago. The place was packed with great finds, and I walked out of there with a fifties antique blazer and a knee-length cashmere coat, that both fit me like a glove.
Things haven’t changed a bit since then, except for the move: Tiffany is awfully good at digging out that one last item from the back of the store that you just have to see before you leave. You won’t pay Goodwill prices at Empire Vintage (or at Black & Brown); but what you will get is a fair deal for a true curated item and something that would cost 5x or 6x comparable new at a department store. Great women’s stuff too, including vintage sunglasses, and fantastic fifties and sixties outfits. One last tip: if you’re a fan of flannel shirts, no one else in the Bay Area comes close to Empire Vintage. It’s a specialty of theirs. Incredible collection, and I am very happy that Empire Vintage moved south down 101 to Mountain View.
Empire Vintage Clothing – 831 Villa St. Mt. View, CA 94041 (650) 254-1970 Sun.-Wed. 12-6, Th-Sat 12-8