Vintage Closet Hunting 101: My 7 Hours Spent on St. James, Long Island

by Sammy in 4 Comments — Updated October 14, 2019

I’m a firm believer in positive energy — and that when you throw your own positivity to the wind, it comes whipping back to you like a boomerang on happy pills.

That’s how I felt yesterday while vintage hunting in the closet of a woman who lived on Long Island, New York. Why the boomerang effect? A few months ago, I spoke about the “Art of Thrifting” to a room full of fashion professionals and aficionados at Parson’s Fashion Camp weekend.  One of the attendees later emailed — and I’m serious by “later,” as I think it was more than a MONTH later — to inform me that his mother was moving out of her Long Island home and needed some serious help cleaning out her closet.

It was like the Ghostbusters theme song started going off in my head … Sammy D Sunshine Cleaning, ready for action!

Yesterday I hit 278 off the Triboro Bridge and connected with the two main highways of Long Island: 495-E and then, the Northern Parkway. See map below for exactly WHAT Long Island is … um, the “long” part of the island of New York.

An hour and a half later — after hitting traffic, passing numerous 7-11s, and almost being run over by the greater-than-a-handful amount of reckless LI drivers … I made it. I arrived at my destination and was ready for some serious closet hunting action.

Beyond finding amazing 80s pieces — think sequins, clip-on earrings, Cache, leather, and more — I found a woman who had lived a beautiful life and was willing to share that beautiful life with a stranger. Not only did she open her GORGEOUS home to me [it sold in a day after being listed on the market — totally not surprised], but she opened her soul and her past to me.

It was as if each piece of clothing we touched bore some memory that she wanted to retrieve and relive. Not that she wanted to keep those memories bottled up inside her closet, but rather that she wanted to take this time to share the colors, smells, love, loss and laughter as she reflected on each piece. That for 30 seconds with each piece, she was going back over the course of her 25 years in that home and actualizing how that clothing had been lived in.

I spent 7 hours at her home. After arriving at 1:30, we sat outside by her pool with water and lemon and talked briefly about her life — about how her family had moved to the US when she was 12 to escape the cold war and communist power in her home country of Albania. How she had met her husband – the love of her life – and how they had started a knitwear company together that is currently run and operated in El Salvador. How her husband passed away six years ago from an unseen brain tumor – and that she’s not over it – but trying to date and meet a man, or rather escape, to replace the one she wishes were still here today.

I met her children through her stories [one is a pilates instructor, the other, whom I met at Fashion Camp, now runs the knitwear company in El Salvador] and I met the things she cherished and prized most in her life: family, friends, parties, good clothes, good food, and companionship.

While I wasn’t planning on spending 7 hours with a stranger in her home in the middle of Long Island … I’m glad that I had the opportunity to connect with her while we reminisced together over the memories brought on by cleaning through her closets. I met a 54-year-old woman yesterday who for the afternoon, adopted me as her surrogate daughter and temporary housemate.

On my drive back to Manhattan, after finally leaving her home at 8:30PM [she insisted on lunch, tea, and coffee breaks in between our cleanout sessions], I thought about the importance of clothing as it represents the life and love and happiness in our lives. How we have that one piece we can’t throw away, which we may say just “fits so well” but also bears other importance, because we wore it during such good times and never want those good-time-memories to leave with the removal of said piece.

Clothing represents so many special occasions in our lives … from our birth [wearing nothing at all], to our Baptisms, Communions, Bat Mitzvahs and other religious occasions; school dances and prom; graduation; college parties, formals, and special events; weddings; first day at work … even concert, event, and fundraising tees bear special significance when we had a strong hand in the activity.

While I can’t endorse being a pack rat, I can endorse “packing away” the memories in clothing for a rainy day. Yesterday was her rainy day to relive the magic that was her life in her home for 25 years, and to feel the gratefulness and gratitude of such happy times spent.

Today, find your favorite piece of clothing and reflect for a minute on the memories associated with it. It’s like a good cup of tea or yoga — relaxing, rejuvenating, and rewarding.

p.s. Check out my Facebook Fanpage for sneak peeks at the clothes I found … pictures coming later today!

long island map

“Long Island” extends from Manhattan toward the Atlantic Ocean. It’s an island of New York suburbia marked with lots of green, access to beaches [think the legendary Jones Beach], and of course, such suburban staples as 7-11 and strip malls.

for sale sign

She sold her home [see below for the gorgeous front] in one day. Simply unheard of in today’s market, but I wasn’t surprised — I wanted to share some pictures of the foyer and kitchen but felt  it would be inappropriate and disrespectful of her privacy. But let’s just say it was immaculate, and welcoming in a minimalist sort of way.  I wanted to sit on her couch and read a book while sipping tea, hidden away from the hustle of the city but not feeling that I was stuck in the middle of a box home neighborhood, either.

house on long island

Gorgeous! She loved gardening and took great pride in her front and back lawns.

mirror closets

Closet#1 & #2 — yes, this entire room is one big mirror.

mirror closets

Closet #3 … and this isn’t the last of them. She invited me to return to help clean out her attic [vintage scores will abound!] and another room of … more closets.

stuffed car full of vintage

The Camry getting packed!

stuffed car full of vintage

And packed some more!

toyota camry

There she is, ready to head home. But by the time she did head home, it was 8:30PM and dark outside.

7-11 store

So, to make the travels home go by a bit faster, I stopped at a 7-11. I was going to treat myself to a sugar-free Slurpee, but with my change in diet I’m trying to avoid all “fake foods.” OK, sure, I still use Splenda in my coffee [working on that one] but for this 7-11 stop, I managed to grab two hard boiled eggs and a Be Kind bar for under $3. Cha-ching! God bless suburban convenience stores.

4 thoughts on “Vintage Closet Hunting 101: My 7 Hours Spent on St. James, Long Island”

  1. This is a great post! So interesting and inspiring. I can’t wait to see what treasures you found. Keep it up SD! :-)

  2. Wish I could’ve been there. It’s heartwarming to see that someone else in the world has a story to tell about each piece of their clothing. I’m the same way:) Thanks for sharing!

  3. This reads like a short story. It’s great! You really should see the off-Broadway play, LOVE LOSS AND WHAT I WORE. It’s written by Nora and Delia Ephron (Nora wrote SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, YOU’VE GOT MAIL, and JULIE & JULIA). I know you’re really busy, but you should also try to get in touch with Delia Ephron and tell her about what you do and your stories like this. Maybe she’ll incorporate you into the show as inspiration! Seriously—she’ll probably go for your story.


  4. Really like your storybook approach…it demonstrates the passion for vintage together with the stories behind each piece. I am always suspicious of vintage sellers who view it purely as a profit making business. Without the heart behind it there is only calculation not passion.

    I buy beautiful items all over the world then put them on my lovely models (sometimes as young as 13 because of the tiny sizes) and exhibit my work in galleries.

    Have a collection of about 200 vintage items from 1800 to 2000, thinking of forming a group of vintage lovers to share our great finds and unique pieces


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