When I was 12, the woman up the road kicked the bucket. The next day, the neighborhood housewives descended on her bungalow, grabbing booty left and right, each claiming that various of the deceased’s personal effects had been promised to her. One particularly assiduous scavenger–who, for the sake of anonymity, I shall refer to as Blanche–managed to nab a nice set of teacups and a garish floral sundress.
Blanche was shorter than the deceased. No matter; Blanche was an expert seamstress, and an unfeeling sort of person. So, before you could say “bust-dart,” she had donned her wrist pincushion and, with the frock dangling on a hanger in her living room doorway, embarked on a hasty alteration.
She had nearly finished pinking a full four inches off the hem (she intended to make it into what used to be called a self-belt, i.e., a belt made of the same fabric) when the garment started to twitch violently on the hanger. Within seconds, a powerful poltergeist turned that fit ‘n’ flare frock into a demonic funnel of whirling fabric.
Blanche screamed blue murder and ran out into the street. It took hours of soothing badinage to persuade her to re-enter her house. Two hours later, accompanied by a caring friend, she crept back inside. “There are no spirits lurking in that frock, it was just a draft. You’ll be fine after a nice cup of tea,” said the unsuspecting friend.
Inside the house, everything was tranquil. By the time the kettle had boiled, a tentative normalcy had been restored. The two ladies cringed slightly and smiled apologetically to the heavens as they realized, simultaneously, that they were about to drink out of the dead lady’s teacups. They exchanged philosophical glances and raised the cups to their lips. This action was closely followed by a stereo scream as both ladies realized that the freshly brewed tea had turned ice cold.
Needless to say, Blanche dropped off her booty at the Salvation Army thrift shop the next day. She soon went a bit strange and moved to another town.
Couture-crazed New Yorkers are currently gobbling up vintage clothing with a cavalier and naïve disregard for the paranormal potential lurking in those Puccis and Guccis. Spirits love a nice bit of schmatte as much as you or I: Does the phrase “Shroud of Turin” mean anything to you? When I decided to embark upon the compilation of a vintage clothing guide, I wasn’t going to take any chances. I decided to call on psychic counselor du jour Joe Trolly.
Joe Trolly is the Pat Wexler of psychics, providing spiritual advice and cosmic connection to a staggering range of New Yorkers. It’s tough to get an appointment, and don’t try any weird tactics–Mr. Trolly can tell if you’re full of it. Call 631-467-5866, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I found out that Resurrection (217 Mott Street, 625-1374) was operating on the site of a former funeral parlor, I naturally insisted that Mr. Trolly accompany me.
Mr. Trolly has little knowledge of fashion, so to get him warmed up, I offered, for his cosmic delectation, a jacket that had been owned by Jimi Hendrix. Without hesitation he said that this jacket was “clean.” “Doesn’t need an exorcism–the spirit has departed without any problems; Jimi knew how to travel spiritually.”
I led Mr. Trolly to a rack of early Ossie Clark dresses ($495 to $950). I wasn’t surprised when he started picking up some histrionic vibes. Ossie, the designer for the jeunesse dorée circa 1970, was knifed to death in a Joe Orton-style boyfriend-murder in 1996. His murdering “amour,” Diego Cogolato, received a scandalously short six-year prison sentence. Joe tried to calm Ossie’s agitated spirit.
“Eeeuuoooweesh! This spirit is very angry–but not about the murder–he’s angry at the lack of talent in the fashion world today–and he is frantically channeling his creativity through today’s designers–filling the horrible void –from the other side.” This shockingly accurate observation (vintage Ossie Clark is currently the biggest single influence on the pastiche-filled fashion landscape) neutralized any skepticism in the Resurrection staff re: Mr. Trolly’s abilities.
Mr. Trolly grabbed OD’d rocker Johnny Thunders’ (not for sale) boots and immediately got “a Buddhist feeling–he has no interest in coming back–he wants it to be known that he may have seen violence or been around violence–but he wasn’t the source of the violence.”
Mr. Trolly moved quickly to an A-line velour printed Pucci skirt. At first, I thought he was wincing at the $850 price tag. I was just about to tell him that this was actually a very good price for Pucci, when he started communicating with “the other side”: “Very negative energy. Anyone who buys this skirt should be forewarned–they will need to perform some kind of ritual–even if it’s hanging the skirt out to air on a washing line. If a negative person buys this skirt it could intensify their negativity.” My advice re: Pucci–admire it, be entertained by it, but don’t buy it. Unless you are 16 and incredibly skinny, you will always feel like Coco the Clown whenever you wear it.
Mr. Trolly, who looked as if he was about to start projectile-vomiting key lime pie, dumped the treacherous skirt on the counter and ran to the other end of the store, where I found him protectively cradling a navy blue men’s velvet jacket ($165, size 42 ). “This person was interfered with at a young age–not sexually. Their development was arrested–it’s happening to Prince William, too–by getting too much attention. It can stunt your spiritual growth. Wait! This person is not dead … and … I think I can help him!”
I looked inside the jacket and saw an Yves Saint Laurent ( gasp! ) label. Was Mr. Trolly talking about Yves lui-même , the genius who had hurtled into the limelight at the age of 19 and paid a heavy psychic price? For the second time Mr. Trolly had sidestepped the mundane former wearer and gone right to the glamorous designer. Mr. Trolly clutched the jacket and began sending some fabulous, fuzzy energy to Yves. He was interrupted by Maya, a Resurrection customer, astutely requesting that her purchases (two disco dresses–$68 and $42) be spiritually Rolfed by Mr. Trolly before handing over her charge card. “This clothing is going to accentuate your sensuality,” said a now spiritually exhausted Mr. Trolly. He toyed with the alluring spaghetti straps and, somewhat enigmatically, added: “Be sparing on the detergent.”
When visiting Resurrection, make sure you channel a few of the great designer accessories: vintage scarves–Gucci, Hermès, di Sant’Angelo, YSL, $42 and up; Phyllis Diller-ish vintage eyewear, $98 and up. The pièce de résistance : a primo collection of 1970’s Roberta di Camerino bags, $250 to $750. The best one is a lipstick satine evening-day bag with subtle butterfly embroidery, $425.00. Mr. Trolly infused this one with healthy ectoplasm while he was in the store and pronounced it fit for purchase. Resurrection has a second store at 123 East Seventh Street, 228-0063.
Screaming Mimi’s , 382 Lafayette Street, 677-6464: The people at Mimi’s, which serves the East Village and N.Y.U., pride themselves on low prices, e.g. men’s mod flat-front pants $45 to $60. Manager Angel Cruz vociferously, and suspiciously, denies any problems with Linda Blair-ish lingering spirits. “We have a lot of 70’s stuff–maybe the original owners aren’t dead yet.”
Cheap Jack’s , 841 Broadway, 995-0403: Jack Markus presides over the largest repository of vintage clothing on the East Coast. “You can find any garment from 1800 to the 1970’s on three floors,” he says. “We have been a resource for designers forever–it’s fun to watch: A designer knocks off something from us, reintroduces a specific style and the public rushes in to us to buy it. All of our clothes are clean and none of them are possessed–that’s ridiculous!” My picks: men’s Hawaiian shirts, $28 and up, and, to my mind, the most important garment of the entire 20th century: Ladies’ Capri Pants!! Mr. Markus has an unbelievable selection of this timeless, hedonistic and flattering garment, $65 and up.
Alice Underground , 481 Broadway, 431-9067: Specialists in vintage formal wear and vintage leather for men and women. Buyer and former 60’s fashionista Barbara Milstein admits, “When I started out in this business, I used to scan the obits to see which well-known snappy dressers had fallen off their perches recently, but none of them came back to haunt me, no demonic possession–but I did have a blue velvet dress which I bought from Kensington Market years ago–I fell in love with a guy–the spirit in the dress orchestrated this union. I was with him for a couple of years. After we broke up, I was really careful about where I wore it.”
What Comes Around Goes Around , 351 West Broadway, 343-9303, nyvintage.com: Seth and Gerard have the largest vintage denim and Western inventory in the country, with pickers all over the West: women’s 1940’s Levi’s suede jacket with fringe, $550; black gaberdine Western jacket, $450; Western shirts starting at $45; Western vests, $55 to $65; Levi’s men’s suede pants, $500. “We have over 40,000 garments–60’s and 70’s–Ossie Clark, Courrèges, Dior. And no ghosts. And we don’t scour the obits–we have enough living suppliers.” Ask to see the Pucci collection formerly owned by Meyer Lansky’s wife–items start at $350.
Allan and Suzi , 416 Amsterdam Avenue, 724-7445: Allan and Suzi specialize in theatrical evening wear; 50’s Chanel, 60’s Courrèges, 70’s Giorgio di Sant’Angelo. Suzi says, “I’m a very psychic person. I’ve had things in here with nasty vibes–but usually bad spirits don’t reveal themselves in my store. A nasty person will be attracted to negative energy but that energy will not come out until they start wearing the garment. But that’s rare; my customers are attracted to fashion for positive reasons. The most positive, upbeat, fabulous stuff we have is Kansai Yamamoto from the 1980’s–it’s ready to happen!” Items start at $90. My advice: Avoid the Kansai. Get something classic that fits perfectly, Halston or YSL. Let somebody else ride the irony bus.
Early Halloween , 130 West 25th Street, 11th floor, 691-2933: This is commercial rental only: 4,800 square feet of 20th-century clothing, all of which, according to proprietor Joyce Ostrin, is possessed by the spirits of the original owners: “When I’m here late at night I’m often convinced that these clothes are talking.… I’ve never found bad energy.”
Beverly Wilburn , 724-4155, by appointment only: Former Barneys operative Bev specializes in vintage evening couture and has a very edited point of view, “not so trendy, more concerned about quality, construction and cut rather than fads.” My picks from Maison Wilburn: an incredible YSL hot pink silk dress (American Indian- inspired, with fringe), $1,000; early 70’s snakeskin coat with sable trim, $600; wool shally Pauline Trigère dress with gray squiggles, $200.
At Havens House , on the corner of Madison and Main streets in Sag Harbor, 631-725-4634, you’ll find the best vintage on Long Island. Owner Susan Penzner dry-cleans away any nasty spirits but she will help you channel Jackie O. (this look is the house specialty): 60’s matte jersey Puccis, $450 and up. Great beaded evening bags, $85 to $300. Babe Paley-ish cashmere sweaters and cardigans, $125 to $300.
Lorraine Wohl Collection , 860 Lexington Avenue, 472-0191: “My customers are looking for originality and fit,” says Ms. Wohl. They aren’t haunted by the prior owners of the clothes–I sell primo 20th-century couture: Dior and Balenciaga. When they buy it, they are buying the vicarious enjoyment of someone’s less-stressful, more decadent life. It’s sentimental–not ghoulish!”
Decades , at Barneys New York, 660 Madison Avenue, third floor, 323-655-0223: By far the most fashion-oriented, exquisite (and expensive) edit of vintage drag and accessories in Manhattan. Los Angeles-based owner and Ossie Clark expert Cameron Silver says the vintage business is booming: “Everything in fashion is so derived from vintage that everyone wants to go right to the source. When they buy vintage, they are also getting something unique.” Mr. Silver denies scanning the obits, “but there is nothing wrong with making a few discreet inquiries if you hear that a well-dressed lady has gone to the big sample sale in the sky,” he said. But what’s the etiquette? How long should one wait before pulling up in front of the house with a rolling rack in tow? “It depends what we’re talking about–if it’s Oleg Cassini tweeds, then maybe a month or so,” said Mr. Silver. “If it’s tons of Halston jersey–then maybe 24 hours at most.…”
Joe Trolly has the more ethereal perspective. “It’s not about when or how long,” he said. “Dead people’s clothes are relics–don’t approach them unless you have pure and clean motivations.”
If you don’t want to end up like Blanche, I suggest you take Mr. Trolly’s advice.