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True Blues

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Durango’s Old Colorado Vintage offers an expertly curated trove of the Western classics, with an eye for that most iconic fashion staple: denim. Erinn Morgan tries it on for size
Photography by Heidi Chowen
Carrie and Tom Dragt own Old Colorado Vintage in Durango, where denim reigns supreme.
Carrie and Tom Dragt own Old Colorado Vintage in Durango, where denim reigns supreme.

Sax-heavy, swing era tunes roll off the speakers. The stairs creak ever so slightly. Swaths of salvaged 1920s linoleum accent sections of the original wood floor.

The backdrop at Old Colorado Vintage, the Durango-based purveyor of must-have clothing and accessories, sets the stage for the shop’s perfectly curated selection of vintage denim. Stacks and racks of the pre-1970s goods are neatly arranged by color and size — and beautifully organized with just the right amount of space between each wooden hanger.

Proprietors Tom and Carrie Dragt are no less the period-specific part. She greets customers from behind the counter in a perfectly broken-in 1960s Levi’s jacket. He sports a classic 1940s Sears Hercules salt ’n’ pepper work shirt and jeans from the new 1947 Levi’s collection. “I’ve been wearing vintage clothing for a long time,” says Tom. “We both have an eye for what’s valuable.”

Tucked away in a basement off Durango’s bustling Main Avenue, Old Colorado Vintage defines the term “hidden gem.” But it is the goods for sale here that steal the show.

Old-Colorado-Vintage-0036Beyond the retro denim jeans and jackets, Old Colorado Vintage boasts a colossal offering of classic Old West cowboy shirts and a large selection of hipster-worthy work pants and shirts from the ’50s and ’60s. Accessories — from original, untouched vintage fabrics to kitschy pillows and quilts — fill up every remaining nook and cranny.

The shop’s well-curated and expertly displayed selections come as no surprise since Carrie Dragt holds a graduate degree in museum curatorship from the James Cook University in Queensland, Australia. Her background also inspired her to set up a restoration and repair area located in one of the space’s purported former brothel rooms. Clothing repairs are approached with great care here — Carrie sources only period-specific fabrics and threads to restore each piece correctly.

The Dragt duo caught the vintage bug in the early ’90s when they were newlyweds living in Alaska. “We were hopping on quick flights into Russia and buying really unique stuff from the natives there,” says Carrie. “The first time I went in, it was still the USSR.” They found buyers for their goods both online and at the Indian Market Week held yearly in Santa Fe.

A pair of 1930s athletic shoes.
A pair of 1930s athletic shoes.

This side hobby would eventually become a full-blown passion for Carrie — and for Tom, who had worked as a commercial fisherman and builder for decades. All it took was a sun-seeking move to Durango where they stumbled upon a closing sale for the Western clothing business Hogan’s, which had been a Durango institution since the 1930s.

“The big ship was when Hogan’s went out of business,” Tom says. “They were clearing out — that place had been in business since the ’30s, and some of their stuff had been in the store basement since 1918. We went in there and were buying dead stock vintage clothing for $5 apiece.”

The curatorial focus of Old Colorado Vintage: Western style, pre-1970.
The curatorial focus of Old Colorado Vintage: Western style, pre-1970.

The other big break: A lot of the clothing was in small sizes that hadn’t sold in the store. “It was great — we were selling it to people in Japan and Thailand on eBay,” says Tom. “We were so busy.”

Today, with their physical retail store in Durango — and a continuing virtual-store presence on eBay as well as a quarterly booth at the huge Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena, California — the Dragts have turned the physical task of tracking down vintage covetables into an art form. “We go to a lot of estate sales and auctions and make cold calls just knocking on doors out in the middle of nowhere in places like Wyoming,” Carrie says.

The dead giveaway? Old homes that seem to be bursting with stuff. “If we see an old farmer or rancher standing out there working on his tractor, we’ll just start chitchatting with him,” Tom says. “Whether we get something or not, you never know, but it’s fun to connect with people.”

The basement boutique is rumored to be a former brothel.
The basement boutique is rumored to be a former brothel.

The focus at Old Colorado Vintage is on “anything from 1970 backward,” because “the farther you go back the more interesting it really is,” says Tom. “They just don’t make clothes like that anymore — 1960 and earlier is really when it starts to get exciting, especially postwar, when everything started to get more colorful and wild with gabardine and two-tone. It’s real classic stuff.”

One of the Dragts’ most standout and lucrative finds was a heavy wool three-piece suit in a small size. “We found it in Nebraska,” says Tom. “It was just the heaviest wool, made for the Nebraska winter. It had a letter and tailor’s label from 1906. We sold it for $1,000 to someone in Japan.”

A few Southwestern gems.
A few Southwestern gems.

Carrie also snapped up an early Levi’s shirt in a local thrift store in Durango. “It sat in the closet and we thought, ‘This is a cool shirt,’ but I never really looked at it,” she says. “Turns out it was a $1,500 shirt. It was an early Levi’s style from about 1910, but it was a different label that Levi’s used that didn’t say Levi’s.”

Another slam-dunk vintage find is buckle-back pants, which were pre-belt loop and feature a cinch in the back. “Any time we get a pair of buckle-backs we can turn them,” says Carrie. “They sell no matter what kind of condition they’re in, even if they have paint spots on them or mouse holes.”

In fact, according to the Dragts, vintage clothing with repairs is in demand because it reveals the core values of a different time when clothing was made to last and people stretched that quality as far as they could. Perhaps, in the end, this is the essence of the vintage appeal in a nutshell: quality, style and value.

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