The Need for Tweed: Behind the Instagram Account Cornering the Market on Vintage Polo
Inside the tweedy, dreamy world of @vintageprl, where Ralph Lauren’s past lives again.
To enter the world of @vintageprl is to ascend to Polo heaven. Not just in the sense that its well-curated tweeds and topcoats are ambrosia for the Ralph Lauren lover’s palate, but that a piece you may have coveted from an old Bruce Weber ad or remember being worn by your first girlfriend’s nattily dressed father might turn up, somehow unravaged by the passage of time.
And yet, @vintageprl is on earth with the rest of us, and many of its featured pieces are for sale. Those that aren’t represent the personal collection of Laird Mackintosh, a Canadian actor who launched the account in 2018 to share his love of yesteryear’s Polo Ralph Lauren tailoring.
“I started my Instagram page as a way to unabashedly share my enthusiasm for vintage Polo. That’s it. The selling has come as a result of interest from collectors,” he says.
Mackintosh has been collecting vintage Polo for 20 years but has been a customer of the brand since the 1980s. He can still remember his first piece of Ralph Lauren clothing: a plaid button-down shirt he was gifted at age 12 by a family friend visiting from America.
“This family friend was a very natty guy who dressed in a way that I hadn’t really seen before: wearing tassel loafers and Polo chinos and oxford cloth,” Mackintosh says. “I was very impressed with his style, and was aware that, with the new shirt, I had something special that other kids didn’t have. The seed had been planted”
When a dedicated Polo store opened in his hometown of Calgary a few years later, Mackintosh snuck in visits during his high school lunch breaks and soon became an employee himself. He later worked at the now-closed Polo flagship in Toronto during the 1990s and briefly worked again for the brand in New York in 2013.
Mackintosh normally resides in Manhattan but has relocated Upstate for the duration of the pandemic. And with coronavirus sidelining his regular acting work, Mackintosh says he’s been spending more time sourcing and selling vintage Polo.
There’s no shortage of Instagram accounts dedicated to collecting and flipping Ralph Lauren. But while many obsesses over sub-brands like RRL or the graphic-heavy sportswear beloved by ‘Lo Heads, Mackintosh has carved out a unique niche focused on the tweed or tartan sport coats and topcoats from the ‘70s and ‘80s. More specifically, the clothing pictured in two of Polo’s most iconic ad campaigns: Spring 1984’s “Safari” and Fall 1984’s “English Thoroughbred.”
“Everything visually pictured in those campaigns and aesthetically distilled down from them, is what I love about vintage PRL,” Mackintosh says.” Essentially, I am interested in Ralph Lauren’s interpretation of England and the English.”
In more literal terms, it means his page is filled with hacking jackets, three-piece tweed suits, and even the occasional Blackwatch dinner jacket. Mackintosh’s personal collection of Ralph Lauren tailoring numbers over 100 sport coats — 50 of which are tweeds — and 10 topcoats. At the time of writing, Mackintosh says he had at least 100 vintage Polo sport coats he planned to upload to his page for sale.
Mackintosh notes that his introduction to Polo coincided with the 1981 release of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which he felt inhabited a similar aesthetic universe. Now, Mackintosh is a sort of Dr. Jones himself, filling photo-heavy posts with notes on arcane details and era of origin. He tells me how subtle changes made to the iconic “Polo by Ralph Lauren” label, when viewed alongside stylistic features and cut, allow him to date pieces by the decade or half-decade.
Early-to-mid ‘70s Polo can be identified by the label’s font and placement, while late-‘70s and early-‘80s specimens are given away by the label’s stitching. The disappearance of “Made in USA” marks pieces as being from the late ‘90s or after. In addition, Mackintosh finds that old union-made labels are helpful in identifying a garment’s time of origin, as well as checking them against period-specific ad campaigns.
As for what he does while donning the proverbial whip and fedora, Mackintosh is more tight-lipped. But he says he spends hours each day trawling online, adding that “Being in the right place at the right time is essential to finding uncommon pieces.” However, the growing popularity of @vintageprl has seen an increase in inbound offers, with fellow collectors and enthusiasts bringing their wares directly to Mackintosh.
There is one “Holy Grail” that has remained out of his reach: a tweed Polo coat in a diamond-weave pattern worn by models Marcus Abel and Josie Borain in the “English Thoroughbred” campaign. He owns a throw blanket made from the same fabric but has never caught sight of the coat.
Vintage, of course, isn’t for everyone. Mackintosh advises those who admire his account’s aesthetic but prefer something new and unworn to look to Walker Slater, Cordings, Hackett and Paul Stuart for Anglophile style, and consider J. Press for trad wares.
While Mackintosh is a customer of contemporary Polo, he identifies the mid 1980s as the “Golden Era,” both for the quality and designs of the clothing and his own relationship to the label at the time.
“For me, the mid ‘80s were the apogee, the zenith, the high-water mark. When all the stars aligned, and Ralph Lauren’s art was at its highest. I love the company now too, but that time had special meaning for me,” Mackintosh says.
He also views those Reagan-era pieces as the embodiment of a core concept in Polo’s DNA: timelessness.
“I defy anyone to pull an ’80s jacket out of their wardrobe from any other designer and not look mildly silly wearing it today. Not Polo: It looks perfect now, 40 years later. And that’s another reason why I love it: we were not duped. It does get better and more personal with age,” he says.
Though it’s hard to predict anything in 2021, it seems assured that Mackintosh and his followers will continue to treasure their vintage finds for decades to come. And if you happen to see that ’84 diamond-weave Polo coat in the wild, please send @vintageprl a DM.
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