The BEASTIE BOYS were the OGs of thrift-store shopping, sporting vintage threads for videos and live performances – or just while causing havoc with their best friend SPIKE JONZE, as documented in his new book Beastie Boys. Here his friend and collaborator HUMBERTO LEON recalls 1990s thrifting and how the Beastie Boys’ take on dressing up influenced his own high-school style

Photography by Spike Jonze Text by Humberto Leon

Thrifting is a common terminology that has come to mean second-hand to a lot of people. This is probably one of the worst misconceptions. Purchasing something from the Real Real, Wasteland, Crossroads, BuffaloExchange, Tokio 7, Resurrection or other places where someone has made the decision to purchase, consign or curate the goods in their store does not count as thrift. Even cute things from flea markets are not considered thrift. That’s a flea-market find.

Thrifting is going to a Salvation Army (Oakland, Pasadena, Queens), Savers (San Jose), Mission Thrift (San Francisco), or Red, White and Blue (New Jersey), pulling up and having that sparkle in your eye, that deep breath before you dive in and get those arm muscles ready (depending on your technique) to hold up to 30 to 40 garments, and a distinct smell of I don’t know what. That’s thrifting.

I should know. I’m 45 and still have these insane exciting feelings driving by one of these places.

I started thrifting casually in 10th grade, when this girl that I fell in love with (Bianca), who had the best style, told me where she went shopping. We dated, but that meant holding hands – because I knew I was already feeling my queerness, but was confused because I like her hair and her style. She would always wear Doc Martens, but had rad style. At this time, I shopped mainly at the mall and was told buying second-hand clothes would bring the devil into the house. Growing up in an Asian household, the idea of purchasing second-hand meant that these were clothes from people who have died. It could never be someone getting rid of clothes they didn’t want, not to an Asian mom. So sneakily, this was my rebellion. Buying clothes was a risk I had to take, especially if it was finding something for $3.99 that no-one else had.

My obsession grew and moving to Berkeley, California, only made it easier for me to go visit my local thrift like it was my best friend’s house. I had a car and would drive different groups of friends to shop and we always made a pact like friends do before entering a race: We go to different aisles, no jumping ahead of me if I am sorting too slow; if you find something that you don’t like, but someone else in the group would, get it for them; and one friend tried to pull the if you find good girls’ stuff, she got first dibs? Too bad for her – I liked to wear men’s and women’s clothing, so it was all fair game. My technique was simple. If I liked it enough to try, I would throw the entire garment over my left arm (I’m left handed, so my left arm is stronger), and I would keep stacking until my arm was tired and then would go in front of a mirror – not a dressing room – to try on. Hangers on the fingers really hurts, so stacking is a better situation and if you go into a dressing room, you have to do the limit of four items, so you skip all of that in front of a mirror.

As you try on, you hang back anything you don’t want (because that is just nice!) and then anything you remotely like, you keep in a pile of think-throughs. At this point, your friends are probably sharking around you to see what you found and try to convince you that you don’t need it. You don’t listen to them. You have to keep a strong point of view and only listen to yourself. Regretting not buying something at a thrift store is one of the worse feelings. It’s like FOMO to the extreme.

I still have my favourite YSL shirt, Kansai sweater, Chanel blouse, Vision Street Wear hoodie, Hermès pants, Naf Naf jacket, Esprit bag, Giorgio of Beverly Hills hat, 1970s short-sleeve sweaters, plaid no-name blazer, and a bunch of other non-branded things that still give me joy when looking at it again.

In 1994 the Beastie Boys released Sabotage, and Spike directed the video. This was way before we had ever met or worked together on anything, but I was in awe. The video created a world that I wanted to be a part of. In 1995 my best friend Shannon and I decided to do Halloween together, and our theme: Sabotage. We went to Mission Thrift and found the perfect blue jacket, retro silky light grey shirt, and aviators, as well as her brown suede jacket. I remember walking on the street and immediately someone across the street on Capp Street yelled “Sabotage!” Beastie Boys, Spike and my thrift clothing had permeated into pop culture.

All images © Spike Jonze. Beastie Boys by Spike Jonze is published by Rizzoli New York

For full shoot, please purchase our print edition here