Vintage denim creates a classic look, is pretty durable, and can be the basis for some of the most versatile pieces in your closet. But in an era when high-rise Levi's are coveted — and same goes for the perfect pair of cutoffs — we got to wondering where the Valley's fashion set heads when they need a new pair of old Lees. So New Times talked with Valley denim obsessives about their favorite places to hunt for throwback items, and how classic denim stands the test of time.
Here are five great places to find vintage denim in metro Phoenix.
801 North Second Street, #104
Set northeast of Second and McKinley streets neighboring Cobra Arcade Bar, Antique Sugar has been at this sunny location for a little more than a year, but in business since 2010. In addition to an array of vintage women’s and men's clothing and accessories, the shop features a number of vintage denim items. Think jackets, pants, skirts, and shirts.
Antique Sugar is a buy/sell/trade vintage store, meaning people bring in their used or found denim from brands like Wrangler, Cherokee, and Levi’s – even a custom New Kids on the Block jean jacket from God knows when. A pair of vintage Levi's jeans costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $36.95.
Co-owner Annamarie Sanchez says she can tell vintage denim by the tag, rivets, zippers, pockets, stitching, and more. But the Antique Sugar owners often sift through estate sales, thrift stores, and yard sales, finding mostly '70s items. Sanchez says a good piece can be “pretty easy to find because it’s such a durable material." However, some pieces, like "Big E" Levi's, can be difficult to find. “It’s kind of everything,” says Sanchez. “You can find vintage Levi’s for days, but if you find Big Es, you call a friend.”
The reason for all the fuss with vintage denim comes from the value of vintage denim, along with the overall look. “A lot of the new denim has elastic in it, which means it’s going to deteriorate faster,” says Sanchez. But older jeans will “stand the test of time.” Along with higher quality, Sanchez explains vintage denim just provides a classic fit – “except the high-waisted '70s jeans that don’t fit anybody.”
3450 North Seventh Street
Pick through the racks of Buffalo Exchange’s newer Phoenix location, and you’re bound to find some vintage denim mixed in with the newer stuff. (They did away with the separate vintage section from the old Seventh Street and Missouri Avenue location.)
Being one of the go-to spots for resale clothing, Buffalo puts out a wide selection of classic denim pieces, including brands like Wrangler, Levi’s, and Lee. Being Buffalo, a vintage Wrangler denim work shirt (or jacket, depending on how you wear it) runs about $20. Store manager Julia Mikolajczak says the "most obvious way to tell vintage denim is by looking at the construction.” She says there’s almost stiffness to the denim, and it's more rugged.
Mikolajczak believes people search for vintage denim because they "want something more unique.” Unique is a good word, as you may find an arrow-collared work shirt, a pair of striped bell-bottoms, or a full denim halter dress. Another location in Tempe (227 West University Drive) offers vintage clothing and denim to boot. Oh, and boots.
Meat Market Vintage
45 West Southern Avenue, Tempe
We’ll help you find the ultra-cool items of Meat Market Vintage real quick. Head to the Danelle Plaza at the southwest corner of Mill and Southern avenues, and walk into the Double Nickels Collective. The back of the store is where you’ll find owner Ben Funke’s secondhand boutique – featuring paper-thin tees, unique trucker hats, dresses, and a whole rack of vintage denim jackets.
Funke started selling vintage clothes online around 2002, and started Meat Market in 2005 while living in San Francisco. Meat Market previously had a storefront at Mill Avenue and 10th Street, but later relocated to Double Nickels. Sellers occasionally contact Funke with items, but not a lot of people are bringing vintage denim to him. So he’s more often in pursuit of it, buying it when he can find it. "Finding vintage denim is kind of competitive,” he says.
A recent inventory of Meat Market’s vintage jackets includes Lee Sanforized, Wrangler, “Big E” Levi’s, and more – with plenty of tags reading “Made in USA.” Funke explains the desire for vintage denim is its better quality and craftsmanship, and the insiders' club one practically joins when wearing a particular piece. Plus, when shopping resale, you can spend less and find rarer items. A mid-'80s to '90s Levi's jean jacket costs about $34. “It’s a relic of a different era … there’s no reason it shouldn’t be worn,” he says, “a classic piece of Americana.”
5538 North Seventh Street, #120
Located at The Colony on the northwest side of Seventh Street and Missouri Avenue, Phoenix General is billed as carrying “everything you need, generally speaking.” Phx Gen features clothing, accessories, and of course, some vintage denim in the form of Levi's, Wrangler, and Lee pieces, owner Joshua Hahn says.
You’ll find an additional option here as well. “At Phx Gen, we also stock Levi's Vintage Clothing,” Hahn says in an e-mail, “which is a premium line of Levi's reproductions dating all the way back to 1890.” Phoenix General has carried items like 1933 501s ($285) and 1950 701 cutoffs. What’s more, Hahn says, “we only stock USA-made vintage denim, too.”
The Blue Jean Buyer
1810 North Scottsdale Road, Tempe
This one’s obvious. The Blue Jean Buyer – posted up at the northwest corner of Scottsdale Road and Cavalier Drive since 1994 – specializes in vintage denim pieces. We’re talking jackets, jeans, shorts, and a whole lot of stuff to go with them.
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Owner Steve Vizzerra has operated the shop since 1987, and used to sell and export Levi’s overseas. His place got pretty well known, and has brought in customers like Social Distortion’s Mike Ness, and members of ZZ Top, and Morrissey.
The Blue Jean Buyer features shelves with stacks of good old jeans, and racks of denim jackets and elegantly tattered shorts. Even the dressing-room curtains are made of jeans. Sometimes referred to as the “Denim Doctor,” Vizzerra also offers services like denim customization (adding tapering, patches, distress, et cetera), reconstruction, and even deconstruction. A pair of deconstructed Guess shorts with a "I Heart Pabst" patch would cost you $50, and chances are slim you'd run into anyone else with the same pair.
Though it's a buy/sell/trade operation, Vizzerra still gets out to buy. “It’s always about the hunt, the adrenaline,” he says. “It just kind of sparks a fire in me for the next six months.”