Remember the rumble scene in The Outsiders (the movie based on the novel by S.E. Hinton), when the Greasers and the Socs let loose on each other in that big, wide-open field? That’s what I imagine takes place regularly at San Diego vintage shops. On one side, the Betty-and-Don-Draper-obsessed, and on the other, everyone who shopped and wore vintage before the Mad Men style machine took over the universe. I picture petticoats flying and gabardine torn to shreds.
But Mark Reynolds, a barber at Dapper Jay’s in La Mesa, informs me that he doesn’t shop at vintage stores. Yes, he dresses in suspenders and saddle shoes, but he’s a “thrift shop” guy, and he has little tolerance for fads and trends.
“If someone comes in here asking, ‘Can I get a rockabilly haircut?,’ I’m gonna say, ‘No, you can’t.’ I know they probably want a pompadour with sideburns, but…”
Reynolds lets his bitter tone finish the sentence.
It’s one of those hot, muggy weeks in August, and everyone who steps into the shop shines with sweat. Inside, the air-conditioner’s on, and the mini-refrigerator is stocked with cold beer. The folksy Western Swing sound of Pokey LaFarge plays on the stereo system.
Two of Dapper Jay’s four barbers wear scally caps. Two wear skinny ties. Three wear saddle shoes. Granted, these aren’t exactly Greaser uniforms, but there’s no doubt that, in the event of a rumble, these guys would side with the working class. Cigarettes, yes (every now and again, one of the barbers steps outside for a smoke), but no martinis. These guys drink beer.
Of the four, Reynolds is the loudest and most intimidating. Think Matt Dillon as Dallas Winston in The Outsiders — but take off the black T-shirt and put him in suspenders and a button-up. He has a SIG Sauer pistol tattooed into the shaved side of his head.
Two chairs over, Chris Angielczyk, who would prefer to be referred to as “the barber from New York,” has instead earned the nickname Ponyboy. At least to me, he has. He’s just finished explaining how the S.E. Hinton book changed his life. (Remember Ponyboy and the Robert Frost poem? “Stay gold, Ponyboy.”) It was the first book a teacher ever gave him that he could relate to.
The rest of the barbershop is quiet while he speaks — until, that is, Reynolds pipes in and says of Angielczyk, “Yeah, he was a fuckin’ Soc.”
The others laugh at the absurdity of Angielczyk (or any of them) as one of the rich-kid characters.
“We weren’t the wealthy ones,” Reynolds says.
Angielczyk confirms that he related to the Greasers.
Kevin Grossman, working at the chair to Mark’s left, says (referencing the story’s plot), “And then there was that one time he burned the church down.”
Again, everyone laughs, including the four clients that occupy the chairs.
Reynolds tells an “I’m not a Soc” story about going out on a date with a girl a while back.
“She was hot, kinda trendy, and hoity-toity.” Reynolds keeps his eyes trained on his clippers and on the hair of the Filipino guy in his chair. “You know, yoga and hiking Cowles Mountain every day? So, anyway, we’re going out one night with some of her hoity-toity friends and their fuckin’ boyfriends or whatever, and someone asks me, ‘What do you do?’ And before I can answer, the girl I’m dating says, ‘He does hair.’”
Reynolds stops and looks around.
“I said, ‘No. I’m a barber.’ It was like there was something wrong with being a barber.” His voice rises. “I had to make it a fuckin’ point.”
The other guys nod. The music switches over from folksy swing to a doo-wop mix tape.
Grossman has his own point to emphasize.
“We’re not cookie cutters,” he says, returning to the discussion of fashion. “We end up spending more time at the AMVETS thrift store than at Fashion Valley.”
Reynolds waves his electric razor in Grossman’s direction. “Don’t mention AMVETS. I don’t want no kids in skinny jeans buying up our shit.” Then he says to me, “He meant we spend more time at Walmart than Fashion Valley.”
The other guys laugh.
“Anything that looks like it’s from a Mad Men set, I’m pretty into,” says Amy Smets (with husband and daughters).
Image by Howie Rosen
Local blogger Amy Smets could probably give Mark Reynolds a run for his money in a thrift-store rumble. But judging from the old-timey-housewife collectibles that adorn her home, it would never come to that. It’s unlikely that Reynolds would care a wink for the vintage Thermos collection on the shelf in Smets’s living room or the “still life with vintage toys” in her daughters’ room. Still, there’s little doubt that Smets would side with the Socs over the Greasers. She is, after all, a pastor’s wife who is looking to bring back “the joy of being a homemaker.” On the other hand, her wrist tattoos and her love of Formica might put her a trend or two ahead of today’s housewife.
On her blog — Simple Here & Vintage There — Smets wrote of her 2010 search for a home: “After house-hunting for a while, we realized we did not want [to buy] a house flip. The granite countertops and bad paint jobs weren’t fooling us.”
Today, she stands in her tiny kitchen and runs a hand along her beloved Formica.
“It’s called ‘Boomerang,’” she says. “I like it because it’s like the old tables they have in diners.”
From afar, the design on the Formica looks like a bunch of squiggles, but up close, I can see the tiny, overlapping boomerangs that give the pattern its name.
The Smetses’ home sits at the top of a tiny, steep lawn in Fairmount Park. From the time it was built in 1950 until Amy and her husband Duane bought it, the two-bedroom, one-bath house had a single owner. The Smets purchased the place for $240,000 and gave themselves a $10,000 budget for the makeover. Before they moved out of their Normal Heights rental, Pastor Smets took a week off from work. He did the renovations himself.
The Missus takes me on a tour of the house, her two daughters in tow. The one-year-old rides on mommy’s hip, while the four-year-old follows closely behind. Both girls are dressed in “thrift-store treasures,” my favorite of which is the older girl’s yellow flutter-sleeved tunic embroidered with two rows of colorful birds. Smets has on a black-and-blue plaid dress, something one of the Mad Men ladies might wear. (Peggy or Betty, that is; Joan — never.) The blue matches her eyes, and with her bright blond hair styled in very current beachy waves, it makes for a hip mix of present-meets-past.
On the tour, Smets points out that “almost all the furniture is from Craigslist,” including the mid-century dresser she “got from some teenage kid” for $70, and the large, sleek dining table, which was free. The West Elm dining chairs and the drum lampshade over the table, though purchased new, keep to the theme.
“Anything that looks like it’s from a Mad Men set, I’m pretty into,” Smets says. And then, on a more practical note, “I hate clutter, so that’s why I like the whole mid-century aesthetic.”
Although the entire house is decorated with the era in mind, the master bedroom and the living room have the kind of clutter-free, functional blandness you might find in a present-day hotel room. But the kitchen and the children’s bedroom are museum-like still-lifes of rooms occupied by the happy housewives and housechildren of the late ’50s and early ’60s. The cheery attitude of these two rooms reads less Mad Men, more Leave It to Beaver.
The kitchen’s pale blue walls and aqua-colored counters contrast with white cabinets and a red Linoleum floor. A teapot on the stove, sugar and flour canister lids on the counter, and an old high chair provide bright yellow accents. Open shelving reveals dishes and old-fashioned glassware and a stack of bright yellow bowls, all in the same theme.
Sweet and cheery though it appears, I can imagine Betty Draper (or some other woman in a diaphanous pink slip) sipping gin out of one of the pretty cups — at 10:00 a.m.
When I mention Betty, Smets bristles a bit. Although she loves Mad Men, she doesn’t love that “they made the housewife crazy.”
After learning she was pregnant with her first child, Smets stopped working. For the seven years prior, she’d been a hair stylist. Yes, she misses her clients, but she’s happy for the opportunity to stay home and raise her children. One of the main differences between her and, say, Betty Draper, is that Smets sees being a housewife as God’s calling for her.
“On the show, they had no spiritual conviction. I’m where I want to be and where I think God wants me to be — in the home.”
Smets, proud of her treasure-hunting skills, calls her passion for vintage everything “part hobby, part trying to save money.”
The Formica counters cost $800 for eight feet; her husband did the installation. Rather than spend money on new cabinets, which she says would have consumed their entire $10,000 budget, Smets found a blog on how to change existing cabinets with paint and new handles from Ikea. Doing the project that way cost $150.
“I got a lot of ideas from the Smile and Wave blog.” She puts the baby down on the floor. The baby whines and raises her arms, and Smets picks her up again.
Later, I click on a link at Smile and Wave that says “Home Tour” and discover that this is indeed where Smets gets much of her inspiration. The details differ: where the Smile and Wave gal has an old blue typewriter and a collection of old globes in her living room, Smets has an old pink typewriter and a collection of old Thermoses in hers.
Following a series of links that lead to blogs across the country, I find a whole world of vintage-happy women sharing design ideas and craft projects. Many, like Smets, have created vignettes out of old-fashioned toys displayed on shelves. They’ve adorned the walls of their children’s rooms with vintage-print fabric banners. Many blogs include sections that provide details about the vintage dresses the bloggers wore and which vintage bags and shoes they used to accessorize.
Like these women, Smets has both made a hobby out of thrift-store shopping and created a blog. (Simple Here & Vintage There — even the name is similar to the “Vintage Here & Vintage There” section on the Smile and Wave blog.) In keeping with the spirit of the past, most of the photos on Smets’s blog are stylized with the tints of fading Polaroid prints.
One thing that might set Smets apart from other vintage-happy bloggers is that, as cute and trendy as the trappings of blog-chic home decor may be, she’s hoping to bring back more than just the aesthetics of a time gone by.
“That whole era was lost,” she says. “Being a homemaker has been looked down upon, and I’m trying to bring [it] back. Every night, we have dinner at 6:00.”
She puts the baby down again. This time, the girl wanders off to play with her sister.
“But we don’t want to be removed from culture and be an Amish family,” Smets explains. “My husband is into beer and the beer scene. And we love art and music.”
“I’m attracted to that classic vintage style, a man in a fitted suit,” says 26-year-old Anelise Arevalo.
Image by Howie Rosen
They danced for rent money
Forty miles north, in a large event room at the Ocean House in Carlsbad, Annelise Arevalo prepares for a show with Bourbon Dames Burlesque. The event benefits an organization that builds homes for severely injured veterans. Arevalo, co-owner of local burlesque troupe Hell on Heels, dons a red floor-length beaded gown and bright-red lipstick. Onstage, she goes by the name of Ginger N. Whiskey. Tonight, her Bettie Page look fits in nicely with the evening’s 1940s burlesque theme. Many of the dancers wear polka dots, lots of eyeliner, fishnets with seams up the back, and pin curls. One difference between Arevalo and the others, however, is that when she wakes up in the morning, she won’t go back to flip-flops and tight jeans.
On another morning, I catch Arevalo in her home on the border between North Park and South Park. Standing in the doorway, I can see most of the place, and I’d be surprised if it was 200 square feet. Directly ahead, a clothing rack is crammed between a stack of hatboxes and a wire kitchen-pantry shelf stacked with boxed foods. To the right, there’s a couch and a bed. Lining the wall to the left, there’s an old television (remember when they weren’t flat?), a drum set, and turntables. This place is the antithesis of the Smetses’ almost-bare, clutter-free living environment. But Arevalo, too, has her collections: vintage hatboxes, hats, and dresses.
This morning, though dressed down from the dance costume she wore at the show, Arevalo’s high-cut bangs and long dark hair still call Bettie Page to mind. She wears a vintage black shirt with a gold oriental print tucked into a pair of ladylike high-waisted pants. A black peep-toe heel completes the look. It all reads fancy — something from a long-gone era, maybe the 1940s. In an hour or so, Arevalo has to be at her job at a retail tea shop, but the bike ride takes less than ten minutes, so we have time to talk Don Draper.
“I’m attracted to that classic vintage style, a man in a fitted suit,” says the 26-year-old, “but I date rock-and-rollers and skateboarders.”
Her current boyfriend is a musician-bartender who is “often bearded and mustached.” Though he’s more a jeans-and-tees kind of guy, he has a couple of vintage pieces for special occasions.
She walks over to the rack of clothing in the kitchen and pulls out the red dress he bought her at a local vintage shop for their first anniversary. The dress is printed with black-and-white foliage — ferns, and so on. Arevalo wraps the waist tie around the middle and says, “It’s gorgeous, with a petticoat underneath.”
Although she owned a few vintage dresses in high school, Arevalo wore sweats and sports bras during her college years as a dance major. But when she began to dance with (and became co-owner of) Hell on Heels in 2010, it gave her an excuse to “start a collection with a purpose.”
She flips through the rack and shows me her favorite pieces, including a recent find: a black, red, and gold drop-waist dress with gold buttons. Then she pulls out a red hatbox and shows me a selection of pillbox hats, some with feathers, some with netting.
Arevalo doesn’t have the same kind of “This is ours, and we were here first” possessiveness as Reynolds, but she is relieved that the vintage craze Mad Men has inspired is specific to the early ’60s, rather than reaching back to the ’40s and ’50s, the eras she loves.
“When anything becomes commercial and mass-produced, it loses its quality of” — she pauses to find the right word — “specialness.”
Then, too, Arevalo finds the world of the burlesque dancer more interesting than that of the wealthy housewife.
“Part of the appeal of burlesque is that these women were typically trying to get out of poverty, or to make their own way. It gave them an opportunity to make their rent. It might be nice to drink wine in your day dress and watch TV, but I have too many dreams and aspirations.”
Still, she admits that streaming Mad Men on her computer and pining over Joan’s clothes is one of her guilty pleasures.
We’re not a theme — we don’t have an agenda
An antique glass case full of vintage barber tools stands in one corner of Dapper Jay’s. Beside it stands a tall marble-top console table. On the table is a picture of the late Jayme Hooker, the shop’s founder, who died a year and a half ago at age 31, and four tall glass candles printed with brightly colored pictures of saints and the Virgin Mary.
The barbers take on a tone of reverence when they speak of Hooker.
Hooker was Dapper Jay, Angielczyk tells me. “He was old-school classy, and he dressed nice.”
“Look at an old picture of a baseball game,” says Reynolds. “They got on hats, fedoras…” He looks around at the other guys. They nod and shrug as if it’s a given. “Right?” he says. “I mean, ain’t no one ever got a hand job in cargo shorts.”
Reynolds’s crass comment aside, Hooker’s vision was a classy, appointment-only barbershop that would provide old-fashioned haircuts and straight-razor shaves in an atmosphere where a man can be a man.
“Not no nicey-nice place where you can’t fucking cuss,” Reynolds says.
When Hooker died, his wife took over ownership of the shop. She still owns it, but lives out of state. Her one request is that they leave everything as is and keep Jayme’s vision intact.
On the walls: a Blues Brothers poster; an Arthur Sarnoff print of dogs playing pool; a black-and-white photo of a pinup girl on her back on the floor of a car-parts store; a Pabst mirror; another pinup girl; a photo of Jake LaMotta framed in the same ornate gold as the mirror behind each barber chair.
The place has an old-school vibe, especially with each barber standing in place behind the four chairs. Their looks are different flavors (newsboy, tough guy, dandy, and Father Knows Best), but the vintage vibe reigns. As much as Reynolds fusses about not wanting to fit into a trendy, shrink-wrapped image-box, it comes as no surprise to discover he drives a black 1952 Buick Special.
When I pose the Betty Draper or Bettie Page question, Reynolds is the first to respond.
“We’re not a bunch of ’50s wannabes,” he says. “We don’t have an agenda.”
“Yeah,” Grossman says. “We do have the pinups and the cars and stuff, but that’s more personal. We’re not overly looking for that.”
“We’re not Floyd’s 99,” Angielczyk says. He explains that Floyd’s 99 is a chain that refers to itself as “the original rock-and-roll barbershop.”
A customer, drinking a Miller High Life and waiting next to me on the shop’s purple velvet church bench, says of Floyd’s 99, “It’s Disneyland there.”
“It’s like this, but fake,” Reynolds says.
As if to prove the authenticity of his fellow barbers, Reynolds points out that Natt Wise, the 22-year-old barber standing at the chair to his right, plays with a local doo-wop band.
“They’re amazing,” Grossman adds.
Wise, a baby-faced guy originally from Julian, wears a scally cap — he looks the part of a kid in a doo-wop band. Although he’s been quiet up to this point, he seems to relish the opportunity to speak. Before he joined the band, he says, he played traditional-style rockabilly guitar, but when he hooked up with Jonny B, whose sound was more doo-wop, they came up with something that’s a combination of the two.
Turns out Grossman’s in a band, too: Rat City Riot, a street-punk band that he calls the “longest-running, hardest-working local band that nobody knows.” They recently returned from a five-week tour in Europe.
“We have more fans in the Czech Republic than in San Diego,” Grossman says.
At the risk of offending Grossman again, I ask if anyone has a pinup-girl tattoo. They all shake their heads, except Wise. “Not yet,” he says, and smiles mischievously.
Reynolds, whose rolled-up shirtsleeves reveal forearms full of tattoos, says, “Tattoos are for sailors and whores.”
Grossman glances around at everyone else. “What does that make Mark? I ain’t ever seen him on a boat.”
When the laughter dies down, Angielczyk returns to the Betty Draper vs. Bettie Page question, which he answers exactly as I imagine Ponyboy would: “She just has to be a good woman.”
“Right,” Reynolds says. “We’re not a theme.”
Greg Strangman transformed the1960s-era Pearl Hotel from a motel catering to fishermen to a hip nightspot.
Image by Howie Rosen
I’m Don Draper by the pool
If Reynolds says the word “theme” like it’s a bad thing, Greg Strangman would likely disagree. The owner of six local properties, including the Pearl Hotel and the Carnegie and Scripps buildings, Strangman is something of an “it” guy in San Diego’s hip, urban-living scene.
He waves to me from the sand that butts up against the side of his home in Ocean Beach. I’ve gotten lost in the neighborhood’s streets and alleys and have to remove my shoes to trudge across the beach to get to him. The 45-year-old wears a striped hoodie and a pair of shorts. I’m a little surprised. It’s not the expected look of an “it” guy.
Earlier in the summer, I’d spent an evening watching Caddyshack on an outdoor movie screen at Strangman’s Pearl Hotel, in Point Loma. The weather was T-shirt warm, and a wall of windows had been opened to create an easy flow between the restaurant’s inside and outside seating areas. Young cuties and bohemian lovers occupied every table and barstool, every cabana by the pool.
Once an old fishing lodge, and now home to an annual Mad Men party that coincides with the show’s season premieres, the hotel’s website describes the Pearl as “a vintage, mid-century modern” boutique hotel. Hotel manager Kimberly Parker told me that the minimalism in the dining area, the shag carpet in the game lounge, and the round, orangey Nelson lamps (designed by George Nelson — of bubble-lamp fame) hanging over the bar exemplify “the owner’s passion for mid-century modern.”
I’ve taken this “passion for mid-century design” as PR-speak until I follow Strangman into his house.
“This place was built in 1962,” he says, “by Loch Crane, an architect who apprenticed under Frank Lloyd Wright. Ninety-five percent of the place is original.”
A tour through the house leads us through 2200 square feet of no walls, save those of glass or lava rock, and into the open (and carpeted) master bathroom, where the five-foot-high, open-topped octagonal shower would likely be the first thing to go in the hands of any other homeowner.
This, at least, is my first thought.
Later, Strangman emails me a picture: the shower, it turns out, has no showerhead. Water comes out in 80 tiny streams (ten on each side) from along the structure’s top edge.
“To me, this home has great soul because it’s comfortable,” Strangman says from his perch at the edge of a pool table in a loft-like living room that overlooks the kitchen and dining room. Behind him, a long wall of tinted glass shows off an expansive view of palm trees and ocean. Beige shag carpeting covers the floor.
He points to a sunken sitting area. “Look at the conversation pit. Whether you’re wearing flip-flops or a suit, you want to sit down in it.”
When I tell him the place doesn’t quite read Mad Men to me, he flinches a bit. But when I rephrase and contrast his home with the sleekness of the Pearl, he describes the style here as “organic modern.”
“It’s bohemian sophistication, and it’s designed to be more casual because of the [beach] environment.” Then he adds, “Look at Don’s penthouse.”
In the early seasons of Mad Men, Don Draper lived in a suburban house with his first wife, while later, he not only traded his bitter wife for a hottie who worships him, but upgraded to swankier and sleeker digs.
Strangman bought this house eight years ago. He purchased the Pearl in 2006. Although the two properties speak to slightly different aesthetics within the same era, both confirm his adoration for the back-then “cocktail culture that seemed to be a lot of fun.”
The $10,000 or so that the Pearl’s Mad Men party grosses would suggest that he’s not alone in this sentiment.
“The original architecture is huge to me,” he says.
The Pearl was built in 1960, and Strangman kept many of the original features in place when he refurbished it.
Among the details that are key to the whole package, Strangman says, are the fins above the lounge, the wings above the entry door, the private dining area, and the property’s fencing and railing. He describes the entry and lobby’s original stone wall as “magical.”
“Without trying to sound egotistical,” he says, “[the Pearl] is one of the coolest properties in San Diego.”
Strangman’s fascination for all things mid-century modern extends to the art in his home, most of which is local, and all of it dating from the ’50s and ’60s. He points out a large carved door leaning against one wall that’s “just back from the Mingei” museum, and a blank space on another wall that’s empty because the painting is on loan to the Oceanside Museum of Art. His total collection is, he says, worth “somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000.”
When I suggest to Strangman that, given his obsession with the era, I’m surprised to see him dressed so 2012, he glances down at his shorts and hoodie.
“All my suits are vintage,” he says. “I probably don’t even have one that was made after 1970…I’m more of a cotton-knit Don Draper by the pool.”
Strangman’s new wife, Christina, arrives. The two have recently returned from their honeymoon — a trek in Nepal. There’s nothing retro about Christina’s white shirt and jeans. Though Strangman clearly wants to be alone with her, I take a moment to ask if she’s interested in taking on the role of the old-school housewife.
Christina laughs. “I have an appreciation for that time, but we’re very modern.”
Back at Dapper Jay’s, Reynolds says, “Let’s face it, [Mad Men] is fuckin’ Sex in the City for men.”
Again, he gets a laugh out of the guys.
“Right?” he continues. “The wardrobe? The hair?”
Everyone nods or grunts in agreement.
“But there’s one thing they didn’t get right. There’s not one flattop on that show.”
The flattop, which Reynolds himself sports, was, he says, popular among “regular men” of the era. But the show has popularized another style: the business cut.
“A lot of people think it’s a fancy cut. Gradual taper on the sides, full on top? But it’s just a classic business cut.”
Angielczyk says, “We’re not into [Mad Men]. We watch TCM [Turner Classic Movies].” He pauses. “But there’s one thing I will say about the show.”
Everyone else knows what’s coming next, and they all jump in and try to say it before him: “It’s good for business!”