“I could close my eyes and touch a T-shirt and tell you when it’s made,” claims Jordan Werthmann, owner of Former Vintage. The Liberty St. clothing store opened in July in the Chelsea Flower Shop’s former spot on E. Liberty. (The shop was acquired by Norton’s Flowers last year, and its website now redirects to Norton’s W. Stadium store.)
Werthmann opened the first Former Vintage in Royal Oak three years ago when he was just nineteen years old. He primarily sells vintage men’s clothing. Two large racks are full of colorful jackets, sports jerseys, and graphic tees full of pop culture references. A black shelf in the back of the store displays a curated collection of Air Jordans and other collectible sneakers.
The interior could be described as minimalist if it weren’t for the enormous collection of memorabilia that Werthmann has shelved against the walls. “We like to put stuff that’s not for sale on display,” he says. “Stuff that you would see as a little kid … to make it like a museum, so when you come in it’s like ‘wow.'” Some of the items on display: A Snoop Dogg visor, a Pokemon figurine, a classic pinball machine, ’90s basketball posters, and a VHS tape of The Rugrats Movie–staples of a millennial’s childhood.
As its window announces in bright yellow letters, Former Vintage buys used vintage clothing (carefully assessed by Werthmann and his staff) for cash or store credit. Werthmann prides himself on the authenticity of his stock: “A lot of the vintage stores … you’ll see a lot of stuff that they’ll say is vintage, but it’s from 2006, like a reprint. We don’t do that. I don’t even consider stuff from 2003 or 2001 vintage. We try and get authentic vintage. No reprints.”
One way you can tell a new shirt from an older one? The stitching. “If it’s a double stitch like that,” Werthmann points to his own shirt, “then it’s newer.”
They do offer a few new items that he classifies as part of the “hypebeast” style–a recent trend out of New York that combines skate-wear, sportswear, and hip-hop styles much like Werthmann’s vintage options. Some of the new brands include The Incorporated, A Bathing Ape, and Supreme.
Supreme was originally a small skate-shop in Manhattan. It’s now, as the New York Times Magazine wrote in August, “the black hole at the center of [the] galaxy” where skateboarding and fashion collide. A somewhat mysterious operation that seems only to grow in influence and scale, it’s made its Barbara Kruger-style bright red logo ubiquitous, and Former Vintage provides evidence of its many collaborations over the years: Items on display include a Supreme Super Soaker and Supreme Band-Aids, and a Supreme stepladder and large Supreme gym mat sit in the front window.
Though Werthmann says the current brands are popular with his college-aged customers, vintage clothing remains his real love. Plus, he adds, “I’m all for the planet. I think we should be able to recycle our clothes.”
Werthmann says he’d planned to take a year off after high school before playing college soccer somewhere, but he found that his small online business–buying up vintage used clothing and selling it on Instagram–was becoming his main interest, and a profitable one at that. He can list a number of famous rappers, most recently Lil Yachty, who have visited the Royal Oak store. He hopes that the Ann Arbor location will achieve the same popularity, especially now that the students are back in town.
He’s also maintaining his online roots by posting finds from both locations on the store’s Instagram. Followers can come in to buy an item or have it shipped.
Werthmann encourages people to browse. “You don’t have to buy anything!” he says. “Just come and look around, because there’s definitely something in there for everyone, whether it’s for sale or not.” Between the Billy Joel record and the Space Jam action figures, that’s probably true.
Former Vintage, 203 E. Liberty. Wed.-Sat. 1 p.m.-8 p.m., Sun. noon-8 p.m. Closed Mon. & Tues. instagram.com/formervintageannarbor