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Snake America: Give ‘Ford v Ferrari’ the Oscar for Best Jumpsuits

Snake America is an e-mail newsletter that covers vintage clothing and sometimes furniture, usually for sale on eBay, sometimes on other digital auction platforms.

Ford v Ferrari didn’t clean up at the Oscars last week, but it was mostly a clothing movie, where the guys in the movie wear cool, subtle outfits the whole time. Maybe that’s why. It’s also a clothing movie where the best part is in the trailer, the bit where Christian Bale’s character wears a herringbone-denim onesie at the scene in the diner. That’s also the best part of the movie, and what sold me on the film. He wears it for a bit and it looks good. Watching the preview, I thought, because he wore such a thoughtful and era-specific suit, that the rest of the film would be handled as deftly, but not all of it was. Damon’s banded shirts looked great, and Enzo Ferrari looked nice, too. The suits felt a little off—Lee Iacocca mostly wore sack suits in his middle age, and his character wears real tight ones in the film—but I think this is as good a movie about casual vintage clothing as Tree of Life, which really nailed pieces from the 1950s and ’60s. But in that film, Brad Pitt’s suit is fuller-cut, so when he cries on a Nelson bench, you believe it.

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Similar small differences exist between different Von Dutch eras. The older clothing, car-detailing gear from the 1960s, is indistinguishable from the airbrushed rat-rod sweatshirts made by private individuals. Somehow it morphed into what VD became 20 years ago. The through-line between these two is this onesie, which appears to be pretty new, going off the fresh logo on the back. It’s made of pre-distressed denim, which almost never works but does here. Maybe because it looks so thick. Many garage jumpsuits have been used in the garage, and most don’t look great. Buying a newish one is a better idea. Like this one, which isn’t as bright blue as the nice one Bale wears in the flick. But it’s a great and rare thing when a slightly new piece of clothing looks specific to another era. This is that.

Levi’s got this loom of deadstock Cone Mills denim a few years ago that was left-hand twill and not right-, like the rest of their jeans. (That means that the denim’s grooves run left to right and not right to left.) So they made a low number of these 501s with all the details backward and on the wrong side. This inversion is a quiet aesthetic decision that is the clothing equivalent of a right-hand-drive car, the kind they drive in Takeshi Kitano movies and in England. Everyone knows they drive on the other side in England, but it’s still less unsettling to see someone bathing in a park fountain than a car where the wheel is on the right side. People keep importing right-hand trucks into this country, but I’ve never seen anyone pull up to the movies in one.

When Levi’s Vintage Clothing began growing in earnest 20 years ago, most of the cuts were either cinch-back or 1947, and the slim ’47s took off, stayed in production, and were copied. But the whole time, Levi’s Vintage was creating some really great, out-there limited editions. At the same time that pants have become bigger, dark denim has become outmoded, and it feels like no one is wearing jeans.

Levi’s regularly produces 501s in three-figure runs, many pre-distressed or machinated in some way. One of my favorites was a pair from 15 years ago, with a cloth pocket on the outside of the ass. That is the best messed-up jean there is. Even Alife got into it. During the handful of years they ran New York, around 20 years ago, they put out a collaboration with Levi’s, some in colors, some with an extra tag. The colored ones look great. The mirror pair run about $1,000, with most sellers online asking multiples of that, which they will never get. I keep thinking raw jeans are going to come back soon. The preconditions for it are in place: They’re out of fashion, styled incorrectly when they’re worn, and are, objectively, nice. Could it happen? I saw Morrissey wear a nice pair last summer, very baggy. Because the backward Levi’s sell for up to $9,100 on eBay, they’re still cheaper than a left-hand-drive Toyota, since you can spend your gas fare on the movies.

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