Lurex. Wool. Sharkskin. Lamé. For John Carlos de Luna, artist and founder of online vintage clothing store, Barrio Dandy Vintage, these are more than fabrics, they make up pieces representative of a time when men’s wardrobes exuded the style and aesthetic of glamour and chivalry. The Boyle Heights resident considers these materials reminiscent of the “elegancia” of the era of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. The words come out of his mouth with as much awe and admiration as any guy would speak of a lover they are consumed by and infatuated with. For De Luna, they are “perfect” and “beautiful”.
“My objective is to work with dudes who’ve never really “dressed up. I help them pick something that makes them feel good about themselves and to feel empowered as a man,” De Luna said. His advice to fashion novices: “Pull up your pants and don’t sag them, put on a tie and take off that damn baseball hat.”
De Luna was raised in Boyle Heights by his grandparents. He said his grandfather was a “very dapper man” who abandoned his work clothes for fedoras, three piece suits and wingtip shoes as soon as the weekend hit. Living on modest means, De Luna was forced to learn how to navigate the racks of local thrift stores at an early age. That’s where he said he developed his love for “the search”, for finding pieces of used clothing that would make him whatever and whoever he wanted to be.
Reaching his teens, the now 33-year-old De Luna, was surrounded by the plague of gang violence during the ‘80s and ‘90s. In high school, De Luna opted out of the gangster lifestyle and fell into the small but thriving punk rock and rockabilly scenes of the Eastside, where his thrifting skills proved to come in handy.
“I wanted to be a rockabilly kid back in high school, or a greaser… any lil’ style or trend that was around, and I was easily able to recreate it. Not until recently did I begin to do it on a broader level, allowing me to sustain myself,” De Luna said.
De Luna has always been fascinated by the classic look and quality of clothing from the 40s and 50s and in looking to expand his own vintage clothing collection, he took to Ebay and his backyard more than 15 years ago, to trade and sell pieces. When his sales on Ebay were no longer giving him the same return, De Luna switched over to sales on the e-commerce site, Etsy, where he opened online store, Barrio Dandy Vintage, in May.
De Luna travels all over California and the West Coast in search of items for the store, which enables him to offer a varied selection of men’s vintage clothing from the ‘40s through the ‘70s. The items are categorized by era and the price range varies, starting at about $12 for a 1980’s pink Mexican American guayavera to about $65 for a canary yellow 1950’s gabardine flap pocket shirt. De Luna said he tries to remain accessible by selling most of his pieces for a little under market value.
Apart from De Luna’s online sales, he regularly hosts Barrio Dandy Vintage pop-up shops all over Los Angeles, at locales like Mariachi Plaza, Boyle Heights’ CaminArte and Downtown Flea.
Many of De Luna’s clients have learned of him through word of mouth but many have found Barrio Dandy Vintage through different social media platforms, particularly Instagram. Many clients began to ask for styling tips along with their purchases, which lead De Luna to add “Dandy Stylist” and personal shopper to his repertoire.
The “Barrio Dandy’s” social media presence lead Stones Throw Record’s soul duo, Myron and E, to seek him out to style their music videos “If I gave you My Love” and “Do It Disco”. “They were looking to do a ‘60s look and a late ‘80s disco hip hop look which I was most hyped up about because I grew up with a bunch of crazy gangster uncles who were into hip-hop in the 80s”, De Luna said.
He has also been asked to do costume design for independent filmmaker, Michael Centeno’s latest short film, “El Espiritu”, about a small boy and his fascination with a the ‘60s luchador, El Espiritu, which is currently in production.
He said he has hopes of one day making Barrio Dandy Vintage a brick and mortar location in the form of a men’s haberdashery. It would be place where men can go to find everything they need including clothing, jewelry, grooming supplies and music, De Luna said. “A place where gentlemen can go to be gentlemen. There’s never been anything like that on the Eastside.”
Lucy Guanuna, a journalism student at Cal State Northridge, has reported on a variety of issues, including business, education and social justice movements in her native Los Angeles. Her work has been published in the Daily Sundial, L.A. Activist, and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal.