Who Loves Fashion More Than a Vintage Clothing Buff?

Few people on earth put more thought, care or flair into their outfits than the aficionados at a rare vintage clothing sale.

The elite collectors invited to attend the opening-night cocktails for the Sturbridge Show in New York City on Thursday evening think about clothes the way many people think about food — consuming for sustenance as much as for pleasure. Minutes after the doors opened at 5 p.m., the eager vintage hounds wove through rows of artfully merchandised booths noses down in search of something delectable.

“Tonight it’s the early birds — mostly dealers shopping for their own stores,” said David Brockman, 63, who runs the show and brought the event to Manhattan from Massachusetts, where it normally happens the Monday before the Brimfield Antique Flea Market. “I wanted to have a very particular, curated, design-inspiration show,” he said, alluding to the numerous fashion-design professionals who also come to shop, hoping to find old items from which to get new ideas.

In the 35 years he’s been working with vintage clothing, Mr. Brockman has gotten to know “pretty much all of the people” who are serious about it, he said. Growing up on a family farm in Missouri, he was bitten by the vintage bug early on, when his mother, an avid antique collector, took him along with her looking for old gems.

Mr. Brockman said he couldn’t pick a favorite item in this year’s show, which continues through Saturday. Though he favored the old denim and the 1920s and ’30s garments, he seemed to love it all. “Just look at that ’70s Saint Laurent over there!” he said, gesturing with great excitement at a red and pink printed dress hanging in a booth across the room.

Nearby, Laverne Cox, wearing a KN95 mask and a navy Mugler blazer embellished with silver rings, was on a mission. Ms. Cox had returned from Los Angeles the day before, still recovering from the 24-hour workday she put in interviewing stars on the Oscars red carpet on Sunday. “Four a.m. to 4 a.m.,” she clarified. “For a 51-year-old woman who’s not usually out there like that, my body’s like, ‘Oooh girl, what’d you do?’”

Exhaustion, however, proved no match for a love of vintage Mugler. Ms. Cox said she simply couldn’t resist the urge to see what new surprises the Sturbridge Show might offer.

“My Mugler obsession started 30 years ago with the ‘Too Funky’ video,” Ms. Cox said, referring to the 1992 George Michael music video that featured clothing by the designer Thierry Mugler. “I couldn’t afford Mugler in the ’90s, or 2000s, and honestly most of the 2010s — um, it is what it is,” she said, laughing. “So I just started collecting about six years ago. My Mugler collection now goes back to the ’70s, through the end of his collections in 2002.”

Ms. Cox hoped to find iconic pieces. “I am creating a Mugler room,” she said. “Last year I discovered my love of seeing things on mannequins and dressing mannequins — which is a weird thing to realize about yourself at 50 years old, but I want to see the pieces displayed as art.”

A passion for vintage fashion turns many enthusiasts into mini-historians and discerning experts. The fashion designer Anna Sui wasn’t shopping for anything in particular. She wandered through the racks, examining Edwardian blouses, running her forest green nails over baubles that had been laid out on the tables like candy. Ms. Sui, 59, attended last year’s Sturbridge Show and came back again this year. “It’s one of the best vintage shows I’ve been to,” she said.

Ms. Sui would know. She searches for vintage “almost every day,” she said, checking sites like eBay or Etsy. “I was 16 when I bought my first vintage item. A vanity from the Salvation Army,” Ms. Sui said. She brought it home and painted it a glossy black, which later became a hallmark design element of her brand.

Tziporah Salamon, an author and New York sartorial fixture frequently photographed by Bill Cunningham, said vintage collecting had been her way of life for over 40 years. What was she looking for this evening? “It’s always a hat.”

Ms. Salamon, cradling a bright, patterned turban plucked from a booth with many colorful hats, looked pained not to be able to put it on over the twisted headpiece already on her head. “It won’t go with my outfit,” she lamented.

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