“I was once chased off a property by a guy with a rattlesnake.”
Old items have stories behind them. And few of the stories are as gripping as those of some of the items on David White’s stall . It’s jam-packed with blue-collar treasures, beautifully-worn US workboots, or deadstock jackets that have languished in some forgotten store out West for decades. Other items, like the jacket he’s holding, boast almost unbelievable pedigrees, evoking stories of tough guys who didn’t always make it home.
Why vintage clothing?
I’ve always been very passionate about vintage clothing, it’s always been my thing – I was always a big fan of Levi’s and vintage leathers. And about eight years ago I was dissatisfied with what I was doing. I was a set designer, building and designing sets for TV shows, and I decided to follow my passion. I think you’ve got to do what’s most important in life.
I’d spent a bit of time in the states on holidays, my wife was working over there at the time so I kind of knew about the vintage scene in America. Back then it was possible to find the odd treasure in a thrift store. I didn’t have any contacts. I just bought myself a ticket to Los Angeles, and off I went.
What’s the most resonant piece you’ve owned?
I was honoured to briefly own a 1920s pair of Levi’s 501s, that’s probably about as good as it gets. But I’ve also had some wonderful pieces with not so high price – I like a lot of no-brand generic denim. I had an original A2 [flying jacket], that was nice, had a wonderful 30s US Navy denim work-coat that was nice, and I like a lot of the old knitwear, there was was a company called Utah Knitting mils, they made some of the most amazing sweaters I’ve ever seen in terms of style, durability and all round quality.
Tell me about the diamonds in the rough, the items that you’ve come across where you didn’t expect them.
At one point I found a pair of ’50s 501s in with the offset belt loop in a thrift store. And digging though the bottom of a rag pile once, I saw a 1940s woolen CPO (Chief Petty Officer) shirt that had a nice embroidered anchor on the breast pocket.
Is it getting harder to find original items?
Absolutely. By the month, I’d say.
Tell me about the jacket you’re holding.
It’s a USN N-1 deck jacket that belonged to a crew member of the USS Swordfish. If you google the submarine USS Swordfish you come up with a whole bunch of information, they were a pretty ruthless bunch and they sunk a lot of ships. It’s £150 more than a standard jacket. It’s a jacket that’s been there.
Have you had any close shaves on your buying trips?
I was once chased off a property by a guy with a rattlesnake on the end of a stick. I do a lot of cold calling, we go out into the west and drive around, and if we see a likely looking ranch and it looks like they haven’t thrown anything away in 80 years we call in… and this guy was not taking any chances. And I’ve met some lovely people. People who still live out in the west, with no running water, who generate their own power, live and die out in the ranch.
David White’s Ragtop Vintage is at Spitalfields, Thursdays; he has recently opened a shop in the basement, 1a Turville St E2. You can find his blog here.