A Philadelphia Treasure - Briar Vintage
Truth be told, I kind of like having Briar Vintage to myself, and I'm a little hesitant to share it with anyone. I've spent a couple Saturday afternoons now up at the Briar Vintage warehouse showcase studio rifling through racks, trying on anything and everything that looked like it might fit me, and shooting the breeze with David Lochner, managing partner at Briar Vintage. It's definitely off the beaten path, and not the sort of place you just wander across while looking for a Starbucks - in fact, you have to be trying to get there to get there - but the journey is worth the effort. I've written previously about a handmade Cowichan style sweater I purchased there, and on this most recent trip I took home a drapey convertible belt back double-breasted herringbone wool coat (pictured in part below).
Briar Vintage was based in Old City for many years until climbing rent prices forced a move to 618 S. 6th St on South Street where they now share a space with sister store Sazz Vintage. I've been down there and it's definitely worth checking out if you're in the area. But I think the real prize is Briar Vintage's 1600 sq. ft. showcase studio on the second floor of the Bulk Vintage warehouse in North Philadelphia, which is pure, raw vintage menswear and accessories in all their glory.
|DB herringbone wool coat at left (purchased), horsehide shearling-lined bomber at right (agonized over, details below)|
Now when I say raw, I mean it. Most vintage storefronts carry a small curated selection of pieces that have been dry cleaned, pressed, and meticulously prepared for sale. That all takes time, effort, and cost to do, and you'll find some of that at the warehouse too that's been rotating in and out of the main store or posted online. But there are also racks upon racks of blazers, suits, leather jackets, denim jackets, pea coats, sweaters, waistcoats, military wear, you name it, that are sorted into categories but might be a little wrinkled or have small blemishes that haven't yet been treated, fixed, or cleaned.
|A trunk overflowing with varsity sweaters|
The selection is massive, and there's always more stock waiting to make it onto the floor from storage. Some of the items may have tags with approximate sizing and a listed price, but most of it is unmeasured and untagged for retail. That means there's a fair amount of trial and error, and you'll learn that there aren't as many fabric labels, size tags, or other common pieces of information you may have taken for granted on modern clothing. It shifts a lot of the judgment onto you, but David is always on hand to offer some assistance and insight. I wouldn't worry too much about the fact that he's also the one selling it to you, either. More than once I've had him tell me I probably don't want something I'm looking at, or that another thing is "beat to hell."
Aside from the volume, another upside to the studio showcase is that the absent prep costs for normal sale on a lot of these items can mean lower costs for you. So something Briar might charge premium price for at the retail store or online after and pictures are taken and posted and items are cleaned/repaired, you can often have cheaper because they don't have to go through all of that.
Vintage shopping can be daunting, like anything new and unfamiliar, and if you're worried that you don't know anything about it, don't be. It's a big world you could lose yourself in for a long time and barely scratch the surface of. That's why it's nice to have someone like David at the studio to answer all of your questions, as long as none of them involve his opinion of low rise pants or skinny jeans - there's a reason he owns a belt that has "Grumps" riveted on it and a pin that says "I Hate Everybody." All kidding aside though, despite his gruff exterior, David couldn't be more pleasant to talk with and learn a thing or two from about action backs from such and such decade, or Swedish tank jackets from another.
|1930-40s shearling lined belt back leather jacket|
currently on sale on the website (see below)
If you have a free Saturday afternoon, do yourself a favor and check out the showcase studio from 12-6 PM when they're open to the general public (you can also make an appointment during the week). It will surely not all be your style, and some of it may be jarringly not of this era, which always requires a certain confidence and developed sense of style to pull off. But if you appreciate the saying "they don't make 'em like they used to," Briar Vintage is a place you should experience if you're in the area - an American treasure in itself, with a warehouse full of them.
|Rare 1950s Brown's Beach workwear jacket detail|
|1930s Wolverine shell horsehide workboots|
|Cap from Wanamaker on Chestnut St (now occupied by Macy's)|
Where to Find Briar Vintage
Showcase Studio Location - 4324 Tackawanna St, 19124 (if you don't have a car, it's about a 20 minute ride east on the Market-Frankford line to Church St Station, or a short Uber trip away). Take the second door into the warehouse and up the stairs to get to the studio.
Briar Vintage Etsy Storefront
Briar Vintage Website
Briar Vintage Instagram - Usually updated daily with new finds, outfit inspirations, etc.
|A rack full of pea coats, military outerwear, and various selvedge denim jackets|
|Vintage shawl zip sweaters|