Published: May 17, 2022
Review and Photos by Z.G. Burnett
SOUTHBRIDGE, MASS. – The third “Threadbare” Show took place on May 9, marking the first time this show has opened at the beginning of the Brimfield season. Threadbare premiered on the Brimfield circuit in July 2021 when the Sturbridge Antique Textiles and Fashion Show would not be running, pulled together in a matter of weeks by Adam Irish and Laura Cunningham. Irish is the eponymous owner of Old As Adam Antiques of Providence, R.I., and Cunningham is a research associate with David A. Schorsch-Eileen Smiles American Antiques of Woodbury, Conn. Threadbare’s first show attracted more than a thousand buyers, prompting another show in September that also saw success. According to Irish, the May show was “our most attended yet.”
This past winter, Threadbare announced that it would be returning for May in a new location. A short drive from its original venue in the Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center, the show took place at the La Salle Reception Center on Southbridge’s historic main street. Located on the property of the towering Romanesque-style Notre Dame Church, La Salle is a monument to American Art Nouveau style. Its “historic character” was a draw and was considered more fitting for a vintage and antique fashion show. Threadbare occupied the Grand Ballroom and Tuscan Room of the venue, with 38 vendors filling the space within safety limits.
Although the doors opened on May 9 at 9 am to advance ticket buyers, the show truly began on May 8 at 7 am. For the rest of the day, Irish and Cunningham mapped out each space with fabric measuring tape to fit booths of various sizes, coordinated pipe and drape and then wrangled electricity downstairs. Vendors arrived around noon on that day, packing their spaces to the hilt with vintage clothing and textiles of every description. Many had been with Threadbare since the July show. The garments and quilts waited patiently overnight as vendors rested up for the next day, when dealers were admitted at 7 am for any last minute adjustments. At this time, a few buyers were already lined up on the steps outside. By the 9 am opening, these numbers would swell to at least 100 shoppers ready to go.
And go they did! The growing line surged, funneling attendees into the aisles and up the stairs to the ballroom. Among them were newcomers, overseas shoppers and fashion brand representatives, as well as fellow dealers who would have their own booths at the Sturbridge show the next day. Many of the Threadbare dealers would also be showing there and possibly setting up in Brimfield, too. It was a rare shop that was appearing at all three venues, but there were a few that did.
Booths reported to have “a little bit of everything,” yet the definition of that varies for every dealer. Vintage clothing is a vast specialty, and the denominations are a niche within a niche. While some have a “universal” array, which usually spans from Eighteenth Century examples to 1990s couture, others focus on garments that any other dealer might consign to the recycling bin. As with more conventional antiques, it takes wealth of knowledge and experience with the physical items to truly know what one is looking at.
Traffic was hectic for the first two hours, it’s typical that dealers will see the highest sales during the initial rush. For most, sales remained steady throughout the day. With the volume of inventory available from each seller, many were restocking their racks by noon. Onsite catering was provided to fuel the fevered masses. The majority of dealers were quite happy with the change in scenery, especially with the flooring; more than a couple mentioned their preference for the ballroom’s wood floors compared with the hotel’s “crazy carpets,” which were indeed abstract.
“It’s better than the pictures,” said Tina Jockel of Pennsylvania, whose booth was front and center in the ballroom, offering items from Victorian lace to 1970s sweatshirts. Her tables were already a bit bare, for which she was grateful. In addition to her clothing and textile sales, Jockel creates handmade dolls from antique and vintage materials that have been featured in Ralph Lauren window dressings across the United States. A regular to Threadbare and a veteran of Brimfield week, Jockel also planned to sell the next day at Sturbridge.
Both upstairs and downstairs, the urge to play dress-up was strong. Surrounded by a rainbow of booths, it’s difficult to keep one’s attention in a single spot for long. New faces shone among the familiar, and everywhere there were racks of clothes to peruse. In addition to the upstairs and downstairs, the stage and upper balcony of the ballroom were occupied with booths. Meant for spending the whole day, many buyers made multiple rounds as new layers of stock were uncovered. Despite the feeling of being in a fantastical closet, the number of Threadbare’s booths is not overwhelming. Prices varied according to items and booths, with some specializing in rarer or more delicate pieces and others focusing on everyday wear that has managed to survive. Due to the wealth of styles available, sales were not concentrated to one particular era but did slightly adhere to today’s trends. Earlier fashions are more sought-after due to scarcity, and some who were selling at the Sturbridge show disclosed that they were saving these pieces for the next day. This is not uncommon for clothing dealers in particular, as the separate shows tend to attract different shoppers.
Up on the stage, Southbridge resident Jamie Viano of Antique Wardrobe shared a plum spot with Gypsy Nation Vintage. Viano was happy with the amount of 1920s-30s tops, daywear and formal wear already sold that day, but was concerned about the lack of overseas customers. The underlying threat of Covid-19 was not absent from the show, and many, including Viano, were wearing masks. “I usually go to the United Kingdom five times a year for shows,” he said. “This year I haven’t made it over at all.” He would historically also show in Italy, but the pandemic heavily affected that market. According to Viano, the continental preference for vintage includes Edwardian and midcentury clothing, with an emphasis on “big poodle bags.” Antique Wardrobe would also have a table at the Heart-O-The-Mart field.
Garments of the early decades of the Twentieth Century were frequently mentioned as top sellers of the day. Shelley White of Amalgamated Vintage (Arlington, Va.) sold quite a few slips from the 1920s-30s, as well as men’s military garb from World War II. Brooke Nault of Daisy and Stella Vintage, who drove 16 hours from Oshkosh, Wis., was outfitted in a white cotton Edwardian dress for her shop’s Threadbare debut. “I’ve loved [this show] so far,” she said, “Will definitely come back.” The wearing of one’s wares is the norm for Threadbare dealers, with many making multiple outfit changes during slow moments to advertise key pieces. Across the aisle, Tammy Heet of Assassin Vintage (St Louis, M.O.) wore a striking pink suit with a geometric pattern. “We sell what we like,” she mentioned with a happy shrug. Making the most of Brimfield week, the shop set up at Threadbare, Sturbridge and in the Dealer’s Choice field! Assassin’s stock represents the 1900s to the 1970s, but Tammy was surprised at the amount of menswear sold that day – “Even flared denim!”
The majority of Threadbare booths were focused on clothing traditionally worn by women, yet menswear was also well represented. The Quince and Quail of Ashland, N.H., offered a wide range of eras and styles. In addition to their vintage sales, owners Maxwell Corbett and Anthony Adamsky also operate an Airbnb in an Odd Fellows Hall in the Lakes Region that they restored, which doubles as a showcase for their stock of antiques. Downstairs, Old School Antiques and Ram’s Head Vintage provided what’s known as “Ivy trad” in menswear. Jake Elwell of Old School outfitted his booth much like a finals club of such institutions, showcasing vintage and antique finds as well as clothes. Glenn Bewley, a shopper of tall stature, was pleasantly surprised to find a seersucker jacket from Old School and a camel hair coat from Ram’s Head. The jacket would only need some lengthening in the sleeves, but the camel hair coat was a perfect fit at $150.
Each booth had its own personality, whether they be filled with racks of curated goods or merchandised with bits and bobs. Vintage George had a true showcase piece, a midcentury advertisement figure from Quoddy Moccasins. “I just can’t believe this still exists,” said George Dixon, the shop’s eponymous proprietor, adding that he’s happy to hang onto the figure for a while until the right buyer comes along. Dixon was mobbed with regulars at the beginning of the show, picking off the vintage tees and ever-popular denim. Many marveled at the collection of race car driver Johnny Mann, a fellow Long Islander whose event garb was for sale at Vintage George. Dixon later drove his van to Dealer’s Choice, mostly forgoing racks in favor of piles, much to pickers’ delight.
A major style subgroup at Threadbare is vintage workwear, which appeals to both genders due to its unfitted forms and emphasis on movement and comfort. Antonio Abrego of Dated Vintage, located in Brooklyn, N.Y., exemplifies this genre, specializing in the mended and customized. Sales were steady for Abrego, who was excited to display his best sale of the day; a pair of white painted shorts from 1965 that he requested the buyer to pick up before leaving. In addition to surviving regular wear for decades, the shorts are unique as a wearable form of folk art. Dated Vintage recently showed at the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show, sells at two locations in Brooklyn and also had a table at the Sturbridge show. A few booths over, Heller’s Cafe and North Woods Vintage also offered an impressive selection of well-worn work clothes ready for a new job.
Textiles are literally the fabric of antique and vintage fashion shows, yet there are historically far fewer booths solely devoted to the raw materials of the clothes on our backs. Martha Perkins and Barrett Menson were perched in the “penthouse,” the balcony of the ballroom, doing just that with quilts, fabric squares and linens of all kinds. Perkins has shown at the Sturbridge show for the past 35 years. This was her first Threadbare show and she is looking forward to the next. Kimberly Kirker’s booth was stocked with quilts alongside racks of ready-to-wear vintage clothing, and she had even more at Sturbridge the next day. A dealer for more than 30 years, Kirker is from Adamstown, Penn. Wool blankets were also a hot item at Demetra Vintage, along with quilt tops and bandanas.
As the day drew to a close at 4 pm, lingering buyers had to be shooed away so dealers could pack up their mobile shops and get at least a few hours of rest for the coming week. Those who weren’t showing the next day might reappear as shoppers in the fields along Palmer Road nearby. An unexpected consensus was drawn among the Threadbare dealers; most were happy with the new location, and all were buoyed by the general positive energy that seemed to radiate throughout the venue. Often scarce on the antiques and vintage market, perhaps this is the beginning of a new direction for those who seek out the good in the old.
Threadbare Show will next take place July 10. For information, www.threadbareshow.com.
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