Vintage Lovers With a Dollar and a Dream

Like clockwork, every Sunday morning at 10:45 a.m. in a parking lot on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles, the chaos begins.

Elbows are thrown. Guttural yelps ring out. It’s not unheard of to see a fist fight. The whole spectrum of the human experience — joy, panic, anger, fear — is on vibrant display. It’s here that a few dozen people blindly grab armfuls of clothes and rush them back to bins or spaces designated as theirs along a stretch of sidewalk before returning time and again to the frenzied fray. Tattered prom dresses, stained T-shirts, perfectly faded jeans, Western-style button-ups, you name it. And then, poof, nothing is left. An eerie hush falls over the black asphalt as these scavengers begin to survey and sort their treasures. And it’s not yet 10:46 a.m.

Welcome, bargain-basement shoppers, to the Jet Rag $1 sale.

For the uninitiated, Jet Rag is an unpretentious thrift store with a maroon facade, wedged between Rick Owens’s stark boutique and an auto body shop at the border of Hollywood and West Hollywood. For years, it’s been host to a weekly sale where every item, as the name promises, costs a mere buck. (Two racks of leather jackets near the makeshift cash register on a plastic folding table, however, will set you back $10.)

Inflation may be on a precipitous climb and the second-hand market may have been rebranded from glum to glam thanks to Gen Z, but the Jet Rag $1 sale has remained as it ever was, a fossil frozen in amber, attracting the city’s vintage enthusiasts looking for their fix. Or as Brian Allen, a regular shopper, who goes by Hurricane, puts it: “This is like church.”

The day has a much mellower start, around 8 a.m., when Joe Reyes, a solid 69-year-old who works at the sale, helps oversee the setup. On a recent spring day, with temperatures expected to reach the upper 80s, tented structures covered in blue tarps were erected to provide shade and then carts of the previous weeks’ cast-offs were rolled out and poured onto the sun-baked parking lot in colorful mounds reminiscent of Sheila Hicks sculptures. (The owners of Jet Rag declined to be interviewed for this article.)

Mr. Reyes and his team placed about 20 plastic-wrapped bales of tightly packed used clothes out in a line to be opened later that morning.

One of the first arrivals was Lorraine Hall, who wore a wide-brimmed hat, latex gloves and an indefatigable smile. “Oh, we’re a little community here,” she said cheerily. “We all know what each other is looking for, and we look out for each other.”

Ms. Hall, 67, who is retired, was introduced to Jet Rag 20 years ago by her daughter and now sells what she finds on her Etsy store, Get Up Garb. She specializes in dresses from the 1960s and 1970s. Ms. Hall, once a graphic designer at the now-shuttered Robinson-May department store, said she has seen plenty of amazing things come through the $1 sale, including a fur coat.

The sun was getting higher and hotter when Akili Day took a break from picking through the piles. Ms. Day, 21, was not shopping to later resell, but looking for herself — specifically for a pair of yellow pants. Ms. Day grew up shopping second-hand, learning its particular rules and rhythms from her grandmother. Coming here, she said, helps continue that tradition.

“We used to thrift because we had to,” she said. “And today, with fast fashion, that doesn’t give you the same joy and the clothes don’t last. There’s something so real and so fun about searching for something, especially here when things are cheaper. You’re more willing to take risks.”

But not everyone shows up for the 10:45 a.m. rush. Some shoppers’ strategy is to pick gingerly through the clothes, hoping to find something they didn’t know they were looking for. Orion Kamphefner, 22, who uses the pronouns they and them, was looking for doilies and found a negligee they were considering bringing back to their roommate. “I’m obsessed with old people stuff,” they said. “Our house looks like two 80-year-olds live there.”

“I don’t like buying things firsthand,” they added. “I have crippling climate guilt — and also the concept of something being mass-produced — and then, like, being one of many to like, go and consume it? I don’t know, it just makes the world feel very dystopian.”

On that day, there happened to be plenty of doilies.

Other seasoned thrifters started to trickle in. Mike McGill, 58, a graying surfer with tattooed arms and a raspy laugh who sells vintage clothing, searches specifically for Americana-style and American-made clothes, such as old denim or Hawaiian shirts. “I take a lot for myself and a lot for my kids, and the rest I sell,” he said. “It’s an amazing group of people. Look at the diversity of faces here. You look at this and think, why can’t people get along?”

Asked if he had a favorite item he found among the piles, he had a one-word response: “Friends.”

More people arrived and crowds began to cluster at the wrapped parcels, staking their claims. Mr. Reyes called out the rules of the sale: Throw back what you don’t want; those caught fighting will be immediately expelled, adding, “And, please, be gentle.” Then he took a box-cutter and sliced open the bales like giant carcasses, and their guts of old rags exploded forth. With a quick gesture of his hand, the sale was open and the bedlam began. Moments later it was over.

Mr. Allen operates a shop called Rich Bum Vintage on Etsy. He has been coming to the $1 sale for about a decade, he said, after discovering it while driving by. “I’ve always been into thrifting; into old clothes,” he said, as he divvied his bin full of clothing into a “no” pile and a “maybe” pile. “They were made with so much more intention and purpose,” he said. Over the years, he’s taught himself how to date a garment using its texture, tags and stitching. He held up a pair of jeans. “See, feel this, it feels cheap. And look at that tag.” He frowned. “Too new.”

Someone brought a T-shirt over to him, and he bowed in thanks. “I have allies here and we all trade,” he said. “We always get what was meant for us, you know?”

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