Bobby Garnett, the Boston vintage clothier known better as “Bobby from Boston,” who provided inspiration for fashion designers like Ralph Lauren, and costumes for some 50 Hollywood movies, has died at the age of 66.
Back in 2013, at his enormous vintage clothing warehouse in Lynn, amidst shelves of two-tone shoes from the 1930s, endless rows of slacks from the 1940s and piles of denim jeans from the 1950s, Bobby Garnett told me that, somewhere along the line, hunting for vintage clothes simply became a part of him.
"I'm kind of a maniac," he said, laughing. "For me, there’s a rush finding one great item or being able to find 500 items that I can just use. Either way I’m gonna dig and pick until I pass out."
And that’s just what Garnett did. Born and raised in Boston, he stumbled into the vintage clothing game almost by accident, when he started stripping old shirts and jackets of their buttons at his leather working shop in South Boston.
"We had a basket on the side where, after the vintage things were stripped, we’d throw it in there for a couple of bucks," he explained. "And this basket was always empty and people would constantly ask us when you gonna put more stuff in the basket?"
Garnett parlayed that single basket into a fruitful career. He launched his first vintage clothing store in Provincetown in 1974. In 1995, he opened Bobby from Boston, his retail vintage shop in Boston’s South End that is as much a museum exhibition as it is a clothing store.
"Mostly we try and deal in ‘60s and earlier...men’s and women’s," he said, "If you’re gonna do a section of work clothes, I like having old tools in the section, old lunch boxes, and thermoses."
His keen eye and ever expanding assortment of clothes, hats, shoes and accessories stretching back to the turn of the century became legendary in fashion circles across the globe. Among his best customers were titans like Ralph Lauren.
"We sell to so many designers who use vintage for inspiration," said Garnett. "J Crew, Armani, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford."
Garnett also caught Hollywood’s eye. His unique collection provided costumes for hit TV shows, like Boardwalk Empire, and some 50 movies – including A Bronx Tale, A Beautiful Mind and Moonrise Kingdom.
"I learn something everyday in this business," said Garnett. "It's an amazing thing because its history, and you never know everything. Even by the time I’m finished I still won’t know everything, but I’ll know enough."
They say that clothes make the man. Well, nobody had clothes like Bobby Garnet. And if that old adage is true, there will never be another man like him.