Photo: Yepoka Yeebo / Business Insider
Trash and Vaudeville, a legendary store in New York’s East Village, has been a shrine to rock and roll fashion for almost 40 years. They put the Ramones in those skintight black jeans, and helped Madonna’s stylists put together her Super Bowl look.While every other store that sold Dr Martens boots and screen-printed band t-shirts succumbed to the brutal combination of New York real estate prices and changing tastes, Trash and Vaudeville became the only place you could find Beatle boots, that Kurt Cobain shirt and the Slash hat, under the same roof. “It’s a major compliment to be the only one left,” store manager Jimmy Webb told us during a recent visit.
See What It’s Like To Shop At New York’s Only Original Punk Rock Boutique >
Opposite the store’s changing rooms, a series of customers examined themselves in a vast, floor-to-ceiling mirror. When a portly German tourist wearing a cravat and a waistcoat strutted up and posed in front of the mirror in a dramatic black frock coat and a top hat, Jimmy told him, “You look awesome. But the shape of the hat is not good. I want to see you in the ‘Slash’ hat.” Jimmy’s remarkable eye for what works helped make the store indispensable to stylists and designers.
Wiry, energetic and wrapped in leather, denim and clanking silver bracelets, Jimmy is fast becoming a New York legend. “I wandered in here when I was like 16 and I just fell in love with the place; a lot of people still do,” says Jimmy, perched on a wooden crate set in front of the store’s floor-to-ceiling mirror. “Many, many years later, after being a customer and living your classic New York City runaway life, I really wanted to work here.”
Jimmy says the feeling he got when he first walked into the store in 1975 was the feeling that kept people coming. “You have to be that piece of New York history, that little destination, that little Mecca,” he said. “That’s what keeps it going.” It doesn’t matter that teenybopper chain store Hot Topic sells bondage pants or the New York Dolls classic striped shirt, he said. “It’s been hanging here and selling here with its authenticity for 33 years. You smell it, the history in the walls.”
Trash and Vaudeville had a very authentic start as a Jersey City head shop and clothing store in 1972. Owner Ray Goodman was still in high school, and the original store lasted just six months, but the seeds were sewn. Three years later, Goodman took over a hippy boutique, Limbo, on St Mark’s Place. “Behind all of this was my love for rock and roll,” said Goodman in a phone conversation. ” I [thought] ‘I’ve got to figure out how to stay part of the scene.'”
By the time the East Village renaissance rolled around in the early 1980s, Trash and Vaudeville was a defining feature of the scene. “We never really said we were a punk store, we never said we were a vintage store, we never said we were a Goth store, or a Teddy store,” said Goodman explaining his buying style. “If it was good, and if it had a rock and roll vibe to it, we went with it.”
Goodman fondly remembers a picture of Mick Jones from British punk band The Clash, leaning against a lamppost in St Mark’s place, clutching a bag from Trash and Vaudeville. And there was the time Bruce Springsteen came in and bought a vintage pink and black plaid shirt off Goodman’s back. It ended up on the cover of ‘The River’ album. “From early on we started developing a clientele for entertainment people, of music people,” said Goodman. “All these people I admired were coming in as my customers.”
Even when styles fell out of fashion everywhere else, Goodman saw demand and kept them in stock. When designers stopped making these things, he took over, manufacturing pink and black plaid men’s shirts, and those iconic, unrelentingly tight black jeans. The operation evolved into Tripp, a fashion label that sells around the world, run by Goodman’s wife Daang.
For the first 15 years, everything was made within a 10-mile radius of the store, in factories in Chinatown, Brooklyn and New Jersey. Then the factories started closing down and prices started soaring. “It got so expensive that our market couldn’t afford what we were making for them anymore,” says Goodman.
He had to chose between price hikes that would put the clothes they made way out of the reach of the never-ending throng of 18-year-olds who had kept the store going for decades, or move production to China. Goodman decided to do whatever it took to keep the kids coming. “I understand that 18-year-old kid. I understand that kid’s mentality,” says Goodman. “I was that kid.”
Trash and Vaudeville is on St Mark's Place in New York's East Village. The store first opened in 1975
Jimmy Webb's brutal honesty, and his remarkable eye for what works, helped make the store indispensable to stylists and designers. Now the manager, he has worked at the store for 13 years
Customers range from kids looking for jeans, to Dominatrices looking for spike heels to Chanel designers looking for pins. Strippers buy the same heels that end up on Fashion Week runways. Jimmy says his job was to make sure he also had that pair of heels in stock in a men's size 16, to make sure everybody's taken care of
Cindy Hulej, 20, bought her first outfit from Trash and Vaudeville when she was 12. When she went back to school, she got teased for wearing the skin-tight leopard print pants. A couple of years later, everyone was wearing them
The boutique has been selling the same combination of clothes and curious accessories for over 30 years
People who have been customers for decades said they found it reassuring that the interior hasn't really changed
A wall behind one of the store's cash registers is plastered with pictures and notes of thanks from celebrity clients and ordinary fans
The store is full of almost comically outdated items you could only imagine being worn by hair bands and comedy hippies that somehow look cool
Trash and Vaudeville was even the first store in the United States to stock British boot brand Dr Martens, building the store's reputation for a wide but carefully curated breadth of styles
Staffers are responsible for most of the store's random, quirky decor, including changing room doors plastered with cat-themed wal.paper and vintage Playboy covers
The store is still a magnet for fetish fans, and helped dress the Broadway production of 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show'
Owner Ray Goodman made buying trips to Europe, picking up on the punk and new wave scenes that were exploding in London, and bringing the fashion back to New York
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