Larry McKaughan, Antique and Vintage Workwear Collector
EVERY DAY IS CASUAL FRIDAY at Heller’s Cafe, the Capitol Hill showroom and studio where Larry McKaughan houses rare, highly valuable turn-of-the-century denim coveralls and cotton hoodies from the 1930s. The seasoned antique and vintage merchant says it’s actually better if he dresses down—especially when he collaborates with his Japanese design partners on the capsule collection Heller’s Cafe by Warehouse, a favorite of J.Crew prepsters and devotees of the high-end workaday aesthetic. Considering his business staples include a pair of 50-year-old Levi’s worth $1,500, however, “dressing down” might not be the right phrase.
The perfect white T-shirt is my holy grail; this one’s from J. C. Penney. The Levi’s are from the 1960s—I never wash them. The Red Wings are a staple; I’ve had these since the ’80s. We took the best design details from a hundred-year-old denim blouse—that’s what it would have been called back then—when we made this jacket for our Warehouse line.
Working It Out
Shopkeepers, ditchdiggers, train conductors: that’s who wore the stuff I collect and the pieces we reproduce. They’re clothes made to work in. When my neighbors see me, they probably think I’m there to cut the grass. They’re surprised when I unlock the door and walk into my house. Worn on the Sleeve Clothes are an aesthetic expression of values. These convey simplicity and hard work.
Getting the Job Done
I started collecting vintage clothes for myself in the early ’80s because I couldn’t afford to buy new, and I didn’t like polyester suits anyway. When I became aware of the value of used Levi’s both here and abroad, I began selling. That market eventually collapsed, but now I buy and sell what I love. For dealers like me, it’s all about the details—a pocket placed in an obscure spot can mean tens of thousands of dollars.