Tace Chalfa has collected more than 1,500 concert T-shirts, but don't try to ask her to pick out a favorite. She can't do it.
With one peek through the alphabetized racks that serve as a virtual museum of the last quarter-century of rock, you can see why.
But, ask her to pick out at least three she really likes, and Tace (rhymes with K.C.) will profess that a vintage Cheap Trick, a Pat Benatar and a threadbare '83 Scorpions each have "favorite" status.
As the owner of Hawthorne District's popular Red Light Clothing Exchange, the 29-year-old Chalfa knows a lot about vintage threads.
"You can't fake this shit," she says about her precious Scorpions tee. "It's so perfectly hammered and squeezed in all the right places."
Obsessed with a mission to find relics from rock's past, Chalfa has been known to buy shirts from as far away as Japan. She also advertises for finds in Rolling Stone and has a crew of "pickers" rummaging through Dumpsters and church basements--all in pursuit of these often tossed-aside yet extremely valuable treasures.
"Someone will bring in a shirt thinking it's worth only 10 bucks," she says, "but it might be worth a hundred."
Chalfa admits that if she ever finds such a concert shirt on sale for a mere tenner, that's the price she'll pay. Too bad for the seller, but, she says, that's the business of being a good picker.
It's becoming big business, too.
While some folks are paying only a few dollars at local garage sales for these tees, trend-happy retailers in Los Angeles, such as Fred Segal, are selling "rediscovered" Ted Nugent and Guns 'n Roses T-shirts for $1,000 a pop.
And it doesn't stop there. For at least the past couple of years, rock-shirt fanatics have been grabbing up glam shirts à la the New York Dolls like they were going out of style. The Japanese market can't get enough of Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Marilyn Manson. And hold on to that Ramones shirt--tees featuring the punk quartet are racking up some serious cash here and abroad.
Among Chalfa's rarest possessions is a 1977 Bob Dylan. She says its value (around $600) comes from the fact that oft-reclusive Dylan just isn't the type of icon who will often allow his mug to be splashed across a concertgoer's chest.
Don't start thinking all those skanky shirts you've used to wash your car are worth major moolah, though. And don't even bother bringing Chalfa a bootleg version that isn't authorized by a band. She actually has nightmares about these knockoff tees: The goofy images are a bit warped, Mick Jagger doesn't look quite right, a graphic of the Beatles could have been a drawing of any four guys off the street.
Thankfully, Chalfa has more than enough of the real stuff to keep her busy--so busy, in fact, that her rock shirts have already become rock stars in their own right, at two fashion shows where they were featured performers.
For this hip-vintage hound, rock tees have become a fitting passion: a marriage between music and fashion. With designs for a studio (with the help of Michael Maker of the Spokane rock band The Makers) devoted entirely to rock tees on her horizon, she's crossing her fingers that an exhibit at Seattle's Experience Music Project and a "1,000 Rock Shirts" coffee-table tome in the planning stages with a publisher will also come off without a hitch.
Until then, watch out for the pixie-looking gal who's eyeing your outfit. She just might buy the shirt off your back.
See the collection at www.1000rockshirts.com .
Tace Chalfa is about to open a new Red Light on Northwest 23rd Avenue, in a building she will share with a gallery devoted to the works of '60s pop artist Peter Max.
Buffalo Exchange Resale Clothing opened a new store this week at the former Ozone Records site.
Vintage clothing and collectibles are featured at this indoor swap meet with full bar.