My Uniform: Vintage Dealer Sean CrowleyShare
Every month we ask our friends how they found their personal style and to share the pieces that make up their daily “uniforms.”
Among menswear insiders, Crowley Vintage is known as an Aladdin’s Cave of vintage finds. The contents of the shop—classic Anglo-American clothing from the last century—are a bit at odds with the store’s surroundings in Gowanus, an industrial section of Brooklyn better known for body shops than boutiques. Its proprietor, Sean Crowley, is a bit of a curiosity himself—a former menswear designer at Ralph Lauren, who now scours flea markets and jawbones with pickers on both sides of The Atlantic in search of the perfect flannel chore jacket or awning-striped shirt from once-great (and now-forgotten) haberdashers.
ON HIS STYLE INFLUENCES
My maternal grandfather, who lived next door to us in Danvers, Massachusetts, was a designer of womenswear. He was very stylish but not in a flashy, obsessed-with-labels way. He had a workshop in his house, and I had a little shoebox with needle and thread there, and from an early age I spent a lot of time with him.
ON LEARNING THE TRADE
It wasn’t until high school that I really got to put my hands on a lot of vintage clothing. There was a guy named Bobby Garnett, who had a series of vintage shops —one called Strutter’s and then another called Bobby from Boston. I worked for him while I was going to Emerson [College] and then after I graduated. Being around all this stuff that he brought back from England was a very different (and very tactile education) compared to the way some people today spend a week on the internet and decide they’re “a menswear expert.” The final piece of the puzzle was working as a young designer at Ralph Lauren. I worked for Jerry Myers, who was this master of that British-New England aesthetic: he taught me so much.
WHERE DO YOU GET THE GOODS?
I grew up going to flea markets, and I still do that. But the competition has gotten insane particularly for workwear and military. It is about traveling and searching and having a network of connections. I’m constantly calling people—in the UK, in the Midwest, all over. I’ve been doing it long enough now that people sometimes call me when they have some item they think I might like.
WHAT MAKES A GREAT VINTAGE FIND?
There are two types of great finds. There’s that moment in the wild when you spot something you’ve only heard people talk about. Usually, it is an obscure style from a famous maker or brand—the Y model from the X brand. The second--and the stuff I get the most excited about--is when I discover something I’ve never seen before. That happened with a piece I sold last winter. I obviously knew about souvenir jackets—those baseball type jackets that American servicemen had made in Asia and then brought back home with them. But this ... This was a wool souvenir dressing gown. It was from the Thirties, and it was long in an Edwardian sort of way, and it had that intricate Chinese embroidery all over it.
ON OPENING CROWLEY VINTAGE
I was at Ralph Lauren from 2005-2016, and it felt like things were changing there. A friend called and offered me a design job at PVH (Phillips Van Heusen). I was designing for 8 labels. It was nuts. So, I had gone from working on dream product to not-dream product. But the PVH job gave me the money to figure out that what I wanted to do was open a vintage shop. I ended up in Gowanus because I looked all over Brooklyn, and the prices were astronomical. But not here. And the nice thing about here is that if something in the shop breaks, there’s a welder right around the corner.
Dutch. Very Dutch. Oh, you mean my style. It’s that traditional thing. Chinos, button downs, gray flannels, tweed, madras. What Jerry Lauren [Ralph’s brother] would call “everything you love to love.” As I’ve gotten older, now at age 39, I’ve become a bit more of a hybrid high-low—something dressy and tailored mixed with something loose and casual.
HOARDING VS. COLLECTING
Once you become a dealer, it kind of licenses your hoarding. It makes it ok to hoard.
3 THINGS WITH SEAN
3 professions you’d pursue if not in your line of work:
Cook, Woodworker, and Tailor.
3 things you never leave home without:
A Tiffany key chain my late aunt gave me. My dad’s old Swiss Army Knife. And a silver dollar from 1884. My dad always used to carry one in his pocket. He would rub them until you could barely see the face. I’ve picked up the habit.
As told to Alex Mill on October 24, 2019
Photographed by Mikey de Temple (@mikeydetemple) at Crowley Vintage in Gowanus, Brooklyn.