On Sunday, July 21, the city of Tacoma will play host to Northwest Thrift-Con, a vintage and streetwear clothing expo in the downtown’s historic Court House Square. Sporting over 40 vendors and featuring designers, educators, food, cocktails and DJ’s, Northwest Thrift-Con is part of a wider moment for vintage fashion happening right now around the world.
In advance of the event, The Stranger is profiling pickers and vintage dealers who make the Pacific Northwest’s vintage scene special, both online and IRL. To kick things off, here’s a tour of Tacoma's thriving year-round vintage scene, featuring several vendors who will be exhibiting at the show.
We start our tour at All Star Vintage on S 38th Street in Tacoma’s Lincoln International District. Opened in August of 2018, All Star is the work of Richard and Deserie Sjouwke, who’ve built a bright, clean space that smartly walks a line between vintage boutique and gallery. The Sjouwkes are something of a Tacoma power couple in the world of fashion, vintage, and music, and are also the founding team behind Thrift-Con NW.
Deserie Sjouwke has been around vintage clothing sales since birth, selling alongside her family at flea markets in the Bay Area. “My dad was a garbage man,” she says. “He would pick up from the rich neighborhoods and make us toys and sell clothes from what he found.” Today she co-manages All Star and works as a stylist for local artists and performers. Her favorite pieces in the shop have a clear “Chicano influence," she tells me, drawing on influential oversized throwback styles from her youth from brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Pendleton.
Richard Sjouwke has a long history in vintage as well, selling back home in the Bay Area before moving to the northwest, but his path to All Star routes first through the corporate world. It was a job with Comcast that brought him into contact with Rialto “Rio” Estolas, the entrepreneur behind Capitol Hill’s popular vintage sportswear boutique, Throwbacks NW. The duo teamed up to help create All Star in Tacoma, just blocks from Lincoln High School in a neighborhood dotted with Vietnamese restaurants and jewelry stores, dive bars and burger joints unchanged since the 1970s (save for the smoking ban).
All Star offers a plethora of vintage sportswear—if you are looking for clean Sonics or Huskies pieces from the '80s and '90s, this is your store. But that’s really just the start; look closer and you’ll find highly sought after vintage pieces from a kaleidoscopic range of brands and styles, from Wu Wear to Benetton to coveted t-shirts by noted Disney artist Jerry Leigh. A back room stocks a range of music on cassette and vinyl, decked out in vintage posters and stickers from J Dilla to Stones Throw to "Check Your Head."
Also opened in 2018, Savoy is the visionary expression of founder Michael Maker, a Portland transplant musician and decades-long vintage clothing enthusiast. Occupying a deep, moodily lit shotgun retail space on Tacoma’s historic Antique Row, Savoy is packed full of hundreds, if not thousands of items of vintage clothing and collectibles.
The effect is equal parts vintage boutique and living museum. You know that scene in The Fifth Element where Milla Jovovich’s character learns the whole of human history in the course of one evening? Savoy feels like every trend and mode and vogue of 20th-century fashion packed into a single shop. From '30s workwear to military garments to '50s high school sweetheart sweaters to wild bohemian pieces from the baby boomer counterculture to '80s tracksuits and '90s flannel, the range here is deep and authoritative. Savoy has a particularly strong collection of vintage denim—both jackets and jeans—as well as a deep bench of vintage Pendleton button-ups, all of it delightfully laid out alongside toys, posters, signage, games, and other assorted ephemera.
Maker calls the vision for his shop "classic Americana and hippy stuff," and I like that description inasmuch as Americana should be viewed as a rolling, ever-evolving concept. I spent an hour or so in the shop, chatting to Maker and exploring the racks, and it still barely felt like scratching the surface.
A Tacoma institution since 2005, UrbanXchange on Pacific Avenue is a mainstay on the city’s vintage scene, and part of a wider transformation in this part of Tacoma over the last two decades marked by institutions like the Tacoma Museum of Glass and UW Tacoma campus. Today the shop (stylized as UXC) is owned by Brooke Casanova, who took the place over from her mom, Julie Bennett, back in 2013.
The shop offers a tightly curated and thoughtfully arrayed selection of vintage and resale, which means you’ll find plenty of '80s and '90s rock tees here, but also newer pieces from brands like The Hundreds, Rag and Bone, G Star Raw and Prada. There’s also a smart selection of stuff like blankets, houseplants, and other assorted cuteness, pursuing an aesthetic vision laid out by Brooke and her husband and business partner, Nick Casanova.
The shop sits directly next door to the urban campus for Tacoma School of the Arts, the city’s downtown arts high school, and the two entities have long enjoyed a kind of symbiotic relationship. “A lot of SOTA kids come back here after they graduate to shop,” Brooke Casanova tells me. “We just want to provide a sustainable option that’s affordable.” Prices here are especially ready to move—I’m kicking myself for not buying a particularly good and weird pink/green '90s Polo flannel whilst researching this article, but once I found an '80s Tacoma Stars indoors soccer shirt here in my size for $18, and so cosmically I’m forever a winner at this shop.
The Casanovas have some fun stuff planned for UXC’s exhibition at ThriftCon, including choice pieces from Brooke’s vintage wedding dress and femme footwear collections.
This place feels like an idealized version of the vintage stores I grew up going to in Olympia and Tacoma, packed with young shoppers with riot grrrl on the stereo. Here you’ll find a little bit of denim and vintage shoes alongside sought after pieces from an eclectic range of styles: a Quicksilver jumper, rugby shirts, vintage radio station tees, and a Windows 95 promotional hockey jersey, a Point Defiance Aquarium hat in clean white and lush aqua, and an enormous TAD promotional album poster from the early '90s, sold to co-owner Cheree Swain by a member of the Screaming Trees.
Swain and her co-owner/partner Ryan (yet another Tacoma vintage couple) have had the shop here for three and a half years now, but for Cheree it’s a lifelong love affair. “I started picking at age 15”, she says. For Ryan the love goes back to birth—his own personal tiny “Born At Tacoma General Hospital” birth onesie hangs proudly behind the register. “I’ve always been a fan of vintage,” says Cheree Swain, “and today there are so many new people getting into it, but most of my customers here are regulars. Tacoma has that community aspect still—I can feel it here.”
I went here last on my crawl, and after holding back all day at last allowed myself to purchase some truly primo shit, including the aforementioned Point Defiance Aquarium hat and an incredible 1995 “Sound To Narrows" Tacoma marathon shirt. I had to actively restrain myself from buying much, much more.
Northwest Thrift-Con happens Sunday, July 21.