On a rainy Monday afternoon, Decades of Dope owner Dee Casey and members of his buyer crew review dozens of new pieces in the crisp, white box shop.
Located in a former warehouse loading bay on Southeast Alder Street at 2nd Avenue, the vintage menswear boutique offers eye-catching clothes and memorabilia from the '80's to '00s. Streetwear could be defined as T-shirts plus exclusivity, but Casey makes an effort to keep his store's selection affordable.
"The culture's rising, quickly," Casey says of vintage shopping. "You can have something that no one else has. I didn't grow up with much, but I went to Clackamas High School, where people got a lot, so I had to find my way to still be fly and be me, so that was a good outlet for me to do it."
Casey, 27, is no stranger to vintage streetwear. He collects rare NBA jerseys and was formerly the general manager of Laundry PDX, an Old Town retro sportswear boutique. Casey considers his time with Laundry part of his learning experience, along with his vintage fashion research and online retail training. Nationally prominent Portland rapper the Last Artful Dodgr is among Decades of Dope's thousands of social media followers.
The store had its soft opening April 12, and will celebrate its grand opening in early May with a party and sale. Decades of Dope reflects not only Casey's personal style, but also that of the 12-plus members of his buyer crew, who scour Portland-area Goodwill bins for finds. Together, Casey and his crew have amassed a collection of more than 1,200 unique pieces, ranging from sports jerseys to band T-shirts and art, such as a door-length Britney Spears poster.
The shop is the realization of years of research and training. "I had a passion for it, and I didn't know how to make it my career," Casey says. "I've since kind of figured it out."
A score of metal racks packed with pieces are arranged by style: jackets, jerseys, music tees, pants and more. Decades of Dopes' price range starts around $10 and tops out around $300. Casey says he doesn't operate Decades of Dope to make a profit but rather to build a community and celebrate that community's style, and to give people clothes they can't find anywhere else.
The members of Casey's crew are all young: Casey passes down his knowledge about vintage and finding high-quality pieces, and they reward him with their youthful perspectives. "It's stuff you had as a kid, and stuff a kid could have now," says Casey about his inventory.
Decades of Dope doesn't have a women's section yet, but Casey and his crew are working on it. Casey, who describes himself as heavier, knows what it's like to be restricted by vintage sizing, especially when extra large men's sizes differ with each decade.
"With vintage, it's funny," he says. "A small men's shirt can be a woman's shirt. I don't intend to sell dresses or anything of that manner, but I do want to sell women's vintage—Guess shirts, Guess jeans, things that fit the profile. I want to cater to women of all shapes and sizes, but it's just hard. If I'm to say I have a women's section, and it's just all small-sized things—that's not how I feel about women, at all. I don't know how to do it yet, to be honest, but I'm going to figure it out."
Here are six of Casey's favorite items in Decades of Dope's inventory.
Green embroidered patchwork Nike zip-up, c. 1995
"It's super-colorful, the embroidery, the patchwork, just top of the line and cool as all hell. Jordan era, when he was doing his thing."
Distressed classic gray Tommy Hilfiger T-shirt, c. 1996
"It's just part of hip-hop history, part of the culture, ingrained. Tommy Hilfiger was trying to compete with Polo [Ralph Lauren], but he saw that young African American cats in particular were going to the retail stores and jacking all the Polo and wearing it on the block and loving it because they loved it. It was colorful, it was real big stuff. So Tommy, instead of getting jacked, Tommy would go to the 'hoods and just give it out, so this is part of that history. He'd give it away to a lot of rappers, and that helped cement his brand, and he still sold to the people he wanted to, his original target demographic, but his more colorful stuff, he made it cool and hot, instead of having it taken from him. His vintage stuff is just made so well."
Arvydas Sabonis Blazers cartoon black T-shirt, c. 1997
"He was our big man, our center for a couple of years in the '90s. He came from Russia [Sabonis was born in Soviet Lithuania], and we drafted him and he didn't come right away, just Cold War stuff. When we did get him, he was an old dude, in his 30s, but he was still great. And with this big head graphic, he's in the home jersey, and it's hard to find him in the home jersey."
Authentic M.C. Escher multiprint T-shirt, c. 1989
"He kind of changed the art game. He didn't really become popular until this new wave of that kind of art. Supreme just did a collab with his old artwork, so everybody just started to take note of M.C. Escher, and his stuff's been sick ever since he started releasing artwork. Nobody really did stuff like that, so his designs kind of sell themselves because of their look, and that's the look everybody's going for these days, these odd, different perspectives."
Game-worn Shawn Kemp Seattle Supersonics jersey, c. 1996
"[The Supersonics] were really good in the '90s. This happens to be a gold logo, which they did for the NBA's 50th anniversary in 1996, so every team had these gold logos that year stitched on. The logo on this one is sublimated for whatever reason—most NBA logos are stitched on, but the Supersonics and the Pistons sublimated theirs. This is really cool, with Seattle not having their team anymore. It's just really cool, it's a piece of history. And that's what we sell, pieces of history. This is Northwest history."
SEE IT: Decades of Dope's grand opening, with a DJ, $1 food, and $1 sale items, is Saturday, May 4. Noon. For the most up-to-date info, visit Decades of Dope on Instagram @decades_of_dope_.