Vintage clothes are cool again.
Of course, there's hardly been a time they weren't cool. But something undeniably zeitgeist-y is happening around vintage fashion in 2020, when every young celebrity from Billie Eilish to Greta Thunberg is being photographed wearing 20th century garments. When influential fashion designer Virgil Abloh says, "The next decade will be about vintage fashion," it's hard to argue.
In Portland, the new home of vintage is Cam Gilly Flea Market, an eponymous production from the founder of Portland indie fashion brand and boutique Heir. Cam Gilly was inspired by frequent trips to the legendary Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena, Calif., and saw an opportunity to bring together Portland's vibrant community of vintage clothing sellers and buyers.
"I was dumbfounded why I couldn't find anything like that here," says Gilly, who grew up thrifting with his grandmother in the Portland suburbs. "Now there's a core group of people who come to every event with a duffel bag and fill it up."
Cam Gilly Flea Market launched in August 2019, bouncing around locations until settling at the Eleanor, a vast event space in Northwest Portland. Held the first Saturday of each month, the market has grown into a thriving hub of subculture and exchange, where you'll find everything from '90s Grateful Dead T-shirts to Nike ACG boots and Jane's Addiction embroidered denim jackets.
With 40-plus vendors, it's basically a curated version of the classic kitchen-sink flea market. One such vendor, Str8t Thriftin, sells original in-box Nintendo games like Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! and The Legend of Zelda, complete with instructions and fold-out maps, alongside vintage tees from iconic West Coast brands like T&C Surf Designs—plus curios like a mint-condition promotional shirt for the Tupac Shakur film Juice, priced at $425.
"I've been to all these events," says Jason Pollock of Vintage Miner. "As fashion evolves, original references are becoming more and more important, and I want to save them and share them with the people."
The market looks as if the 20th century itself had given up its greatest secrets. The soundtrack might transition from pre-Dookie Green Day to a Smashing Pumpkins B-side as you dig through heaps of vintage Patagonia fleeces and Coogi sweaters. There are South Park bootlegs with on-purpose misspellings—get your "Carmen" T-shirt here. There are intentionally ridiculous and over-the-top pieces, like an enormous all-over print of Donkey Kong or a triple-XL shirt for the early '90s hip-hop teen duo Kris Kross.
The typical age at these shows is 25 or younger. But if you grew up when much of this stuff was new, you're almost guaranteed to have at least one emotional experience while walking the floor. For me, it was encountering vendor White Raven's take on late-'90s mall goth—think cloaks and all-black party dresses with lots of severe-looking lace atop Marilyn Manson tees. I was definitely friends with this look in eighth grade, and seeing it again activated my nostalgia receptors in a way that nearly made me tear up.
Cam Gilly is where the 20th century has come to perform its great final act. It's where you'll find clothing that'll make you laugh, cry and possibly feel young again, if only for a moment. Bring cash.
SHOP: The next Cam Gilly Flea Market is at the Eleanor, 1605 NW Everett St., the-eleanor.com, on Saturday, Feb. 1. 11 am-6 pm. $5.