Why Ralph Lauren Never Goes Out of Style
For the number-one name in American menswear, the word "vintage" is baked in on a near-cellular level
One of the funny little ironies of filling out your wardrobe with vintage pieces for long enough is that, sooner or later, you yourself become vintage. That is, what goes around comes around. The contemporary styles you maybe didn’t mesh with at some point eventually come back into style. The band tees that once sold at Williamsburg shops for 50 bucks and upwards in the aughts are now replicated and available with a click of your mouse. The old Tommy Hilfiger gear you threw out around sophomore year of high school might now fetch a nice price on secondhand sites, purchased by people who could conceivably be young enough to be your children. You eventually find out that what you might buy used today to escape the (gasp!) fate of dressing like everybody else will eventually have its moment again. And you, well, you’re just older — but at least you look good.
The most reliable example of this wisdom is, of course, Ralph Lauren. Over my own quarter century haunting thrift stores and scouring eBay, one of the guiding philosophies I’ve lived by is that you should always buy vintage Polo, Double RL or, hell, even Chaps stuff, because they’ve all got near-eternal staying power. That’s why it’s one of the brands I’m always on the hunt for; seasons change and I find myself making a mental note to seek out recent offerings from Ralph and Co. that I couldn’t get my hands on the first time around.
It’s also why I got so jazzed up about the Ralph Lauren “7 Days/7 Drops” campaign that launches on the brand’s app today. The whole week is pretty exciting: today you can cop vintage hand-painted bear shirts, while the final day gives you an opportunity to get a skateboard deck with the brand’s Five Horseman printed on the bottom.
But it’s really the first, third and sixth days of the campaign that have my attention. You’ve got the aforementioned vintage bear shirts, vintage holiday sweaters and a vintage turquoise collection, respectively. I guess the brand attaching the V-word to their offerings fills me with a little tinge of excitement, and I’m not at all ashamed to admit that.
All this got me to wondering what, exactly, is it about Ralph Lauren that keeps some of us as excited about the old stuff as the new releases? I follow plenty of people on Instagram who share shots from old Polo catalogues or drop fit pics with a rare piece of of Polo Sport from the mid-1990s. Styles come and go all the time, so what, exactly, is it about Ralph? There’s obviously the quality, but the fact that there is so much old Ralph Lauren to choose from also doesn’t hurt. “As a dealer, you’re going to constantly be finding things you’ve never seen before,” says Sean Crowley of Crowley Vintage in Brooklyn.
Crowley sits at a unique vantage point: he’s one of the best vintage dealers in America, but he also spent a long time behind the scenes at Ralph Lauren. He jokes it was about a century, but it was closer to a decade spent working at “the Mansion” (the company’s flagship store in New York City) and then in design. Although he’s currently setting up his new shop in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood, anybody familiar with his old location or who follows him on Instagram knows Crowley’s own aesthetic is a hearty tablespoon of P.G. Wodehouse or Evelyn Waugh and a few dashes of American Ivy — worlds that Lauren himself has culled from for decades.
“Ralph is always inspired by the same things,” Crowley points out. Those interests, and understanding their timelessness, is a big reason why a Ralph Lauren piece from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, aughts or even last year’s catalogue will look good today. Crowley continues, “That’s not to say there aren’t new things, but Ralph will always love the things he loves. Vintage has obviously always been a huge inspiration. It has informed everything at Ralph Lauren.”
Like any item of clothing worth its price tag, quality plays a key role here: those old tweed blazers with the Polo tags sewn on the inside will be worn by future generations with proper care and maintenance. But why do people want to wear that specific coat? At some point, you have to look at the long, mythical shadow that Lauren the man cast overs these brands — as well as the confident, creative ethos that rubbed off on all those who’ve apprenticed him in some capacity.
Crowley, with his 10 years of RL experience, is great at what he does because he sells what he likes. He has an eye for vintage, and he trains it on items that are of interest to him, and customers respond to that. The same goes for the small army of influential contemporary designers who did their time working for Lauren, from Todd Snyder to Sid Mashburn to the newly appointed creative director at Brooks Brothers (the company Lauren got his start with), Michael Bastian. It’s that influence, maybe more than anything, that will keep the idea of Ralph Lauren, new or vintage, in demand long after he’s gone. And while you’ll likely have to do your searching for older stuff online for the time being, the app’s vintage holiday drops show that Ralph himself understands the inimitable staying power of his brand. Whether it’s something that was just released or an obscure seasonal item from 1995, the point is that almost all of it looks great.
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