Joe Ferraro is a lifelong Somerville guy. He lives in the house where he was raised, the same house his mother’s family moved into when she was 14. Somerville has gone through changes since his youth, but Ferraro’s not overly nostalgic. He thinks there’s an intersection between the city’s lingering working-class sensibility and its recent cultural renewal in his own passion: secondhand clothes.
Ferraro’s twice-yearly secondhand showcase, the Top Shelf Flea Market, had its sixth installment on Sunday. Every October and May, he invites some of his favorite Boston-area sellers to set up camp in the George Dilboy VFW Post 529 near Davis Square. They cram the small space with used records, jewelry, furniture, and, Ferraro’s specialty, fine menswear.
The flea market is an extension of his blog, An Affordable Wardrobe (www.anaffordablewardrobe.blogspot
.com), where he dispenses style advice, shares his best finds, and even sells items between flea markets. (His online fanbase knows him by the pseudonym Giuseppe Timore, a former stage name he used when playing in a rock band.) He launched An Affordable Wardrobe in 2008, when menswear blogs were beginning to pop up in droves.
“My friends and I were talking about how it was cool that they were out there, but all of them only dealt with expensive things and the expensive people who can afford to buy them,” Ferraro, 35, says over coffee a few days before Sunday’s event.
He’s wearing a classic blue blazer, tassel loafers, and an Andover Shop tie – he says the whole outfit ran him less than $50. For the flea market he’ll dress it up a little more, donning a pinstripe Brooks Brothers suit he got in a trade, a paisley tie that he couldn’t bring himself to sell, and shell cordovan shoes he picked up for a few bucks at the Salvation Army. Ferraro always had a gift for finding the good stuff for cheap, and wanted to add that perspective to menswear mania.
The blog got some attention in its first year and inspired Ferraro to set up the Top Shelf Flea Market in 2010 — partly because he couldn’t stand leaving behind great finds that just didn’t fit him.
“It’s a minor hoarding sickness,” he admits.
There’s a love for clothes in his blood. His mother’s mother was a seamstress; his father’s father was a tailor. He got into it early – his first job was at a suit shop near Copley Square, and he’s been thrifting seriously since he was a teenager (his first obsession was flamboyant 1940s suits).
But it’s not just about the clothes themselves. It’s about what they mean.
“You feel better, and people take you more seriously. All these things that guys don’t believe until they do it,” he says. “Some people say, ‘That’s [rubbish], you shouldn’t take a person based on their appearance,’ and that’s absolutely true. . . . But the way I see it, when someone has made that extra effort in that way, it’s an outward sign that they’re taking someone more seriously in the first place. It’s a reflection of a thought process, especially if you’re not required to do it.”
Ferraro’s list of benefits to hunting for high-quality clothes goes on: It’s a hobby that cuts waste, saves money , and rewards diligence — all simply good habits.
“It puts you in a frame of mind to act and behave in a more generally positive way,” he says.
It doesn’t hurt that dressing nicely for dirt cheap isn’t considered such a strange thing for men to do anymore.
“It used to be this subculture,” says Zach DeLuca, who has had a stand at every Top Shelf Flea Market and sells menswear online through an Etsy shop called Newton Street Vintage. “Now you get all kinds of guys getting secondhand clothes.”
Thrifting has become so popular recently that the Top Shelf Flea Market has gotten some fairly direct competition. Davis Flea, for one, launched this summer, and runs every Sunday just a few blocks away from Top Shelf’s site – a strong incentive for Ferraro to put together a top roster of sellers.
“What you pay for when you buy stuff from me or any of these vendors is not just the item, but that someone has done all the dirty work for you,” he says. “When you come to us, all we have is the good stuff.”
New thrifters be warned, though: You won’t be afforded that luxury when you go out searching on your own.
“You have to go in these places expecting to strike out much more often than you hit something,” he says. “In order to succeed at it, you have to be persistent.”