Creed's Leading Lady On Why She's All About Old Clothes

Photographed by Timothy Sean O’Connell.
“There was a period growing up where my family would thrift all the time, which was annoying as a kid, especially when people are coming in the first day of school in their brand spankin’ new whatever,” actress Tessa Thompson explains as she sifts through racks of vintage dresses. “But in high school, people would be like, ‘Oh hey, what you’re wearing is really cool.’ I realized that [thrifting] was a neat thing; that I had things that were one-of-a-kind."

Thompson’s wearing a vintage mesh top and Madewell flared overalls under a Maiyet jacket, a well-worn moto tossed over her arm. Although it’s only 10 a.m., we’re already at her second stop, thanks to a morning show appearance that came with a 4 a.m. wakeup call.
Photographed by Timothy Sean O’Connell.
Thompson’s on a lengthy press tour for Creed, the reboot of the Rocky franchise that’s already commanding the box office and collecting Oscar buzz. And while she’s had her pick of designers to wear on the red carpet — Rodarte, Miu Miu, Altuzarra — the 32-year-old still has a deeply rooted affection for vintage clothing, which is why she’s asked to do the interview while thrifting.

Of course, Thompson is no ordinary shopping partner, so it should be expected that we’re not at any old thrift store. Instead, she picked Shareen Vintage in L.A., a “girls only” warehouse that houses hundreds of red carpet worthy vintage frocks. It’s the kind of place you have to know about to find, hidden in a commercial neighborhood between Chinatown and Dodger Stadium. Thompson has been coming here for years.

While I’m convinced that Thompson must be exhausted from her early morning, as soon as the conversation turns to the film, her eyes light up. She plays Bianca, an experimental R & B singer and the love interest of Michael B. Jordan’s character. But don’t be fooled: Bianca is no run-of-the-mill female love interest in a sports film. Thompson wouldn’t have signed on for that.

There was a period growing up where my family would thrift all the time, which was annoying as a kid, especially when people are coming in the first day of school in their brand spankin’ new whatever.

Tessa Thompson
Photographed by Timothy Sean O’Connell.
Although Creed may seem like a departure on her résumé alongside films like Dear White People, Selma, and For Colored Girls, the film checked all the boxes for Thompson: Wunderkind director Ryan Coogler (she’d deeply admired his first film, Fruitvale Station), a complex love story in a blockbuster film, and a collaborative ethos that allowed her to write Bianca’s music for the film, a skill she developed thanks to her time spent in electro soul band, Caught A Ghost.

“We get really used to just seeing one thing on TV and movies, and it was important that Bianca was a complicated female counterpart to Michael B. Jordan’s character,” she explains. “Not to begrudge anyone who is comfortable playing the beautiful, supportive, lovely love interest...but I'm not sure that I would be that good at it [laughs]."

Not to begrudge anyone who is comfortable playing the beautiful, supportive, lovely love interest...but I'm not sure that I would be that good at it.

Tessa Thompson
Of course, Bianca, as the character stands today, didn't appear out of thin air. Thompson lived in Philly for two months before production began, doing her research: secretly recording girls in nail shops to master the Philly dialect, visiting concert halls where Bianca might play, and even — you guessed it — thrifting for her character.
Photographed by Timothy Sean O’Connell.
At this point in the day, I've successfully convinced Thompson to try on a gold lamé romper and fur jacket combination better suited for a theme party than real life — for the record, she could pull it off — but she's narrowed it down to a ladylike dress perfect for an upcoming red carpet. Of course, this is exactly why I couldn't let her head to the cash register just yet. From the fabrics to avoid buying to the best places to shop, Thompson dished on what she loves most about thrifting, and divulges a few shopping secrets.

You mentioned that you started thrifting with your parents. Do they still thrift?
“We still thrift together! My dad and I just drove cross country and all we wanted to do was stop at every Goodwill we saw, but I had to get back for work.”

Where are your favorite thrifting haunts?
“There’s an Out of The Closet in Atwater Village that I love that I live by now, so it’s perfect; I go all the time. Beacon’s Closet in New York is fantastic, because it’s easy and cheap. Shareen’s place in New York is smaller than this and really curated.”
Photographed by Timothy Sean O’Connell.
How would you describe the things you gravitate toward?
“I like things that are classic and understated, but I also have a side of me that loves things that are wild, so I am always trying to find a marriage between the two. I hate the idea of anything being too trendy or boxed into one space.”

It sounds like you have a lot of vintage. Where do you keep it all?
“I used to buy too much, but now I’ve gotten way more selective. For a while I bought so much that I thought I would open a store! It was right around the time that people started selling on eBay, and I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll just have a store.’ It amassed, and I would look in my closet and be like, ‘Why do I own this?’ I used to buy things and say, ‘I'm going to make it into a shirt!’ But, then I just had a bunch of projects in my closet that I never wore. I also realized that my whole closet was vintage and it just smelled weird…”
Photographed by Timothy Sean O’Connell.
That’s the mistake I make! Having all these vintage projects I never start…
"It’s a trap! I always think that I can change the garment, but unless it’s a simple thing — like if it fits you, but you want to shorten it, that’s simple. Vintage garment are normally so well made that if you try to futz with them, they don’t work. If you look enough, you’re going to find something that fits you perfectly.”

What other thrifting traps are easy to fall into?
“Buying too much vintage and wearing it head to toe. [Your outfit] can be vintage, but from different eras with things that are bit cleaner, to keep it in present day. But when I see people who are just too vintage, it becomes costume-y. So much of what we wear that’s relevant now is totally based on vintage stuff, so they’re made to mix. This is newly made [points to Madewell overalls], so they’re in pristine condition, which keeps it really clean, but this shirt is vintage ‘80s.”
Photographed by Timothy Sean O’Connell.
Let’s talk about getting rid of stuff. How do you purge?
“I have a group of girlfriends and we do a clothes swap! There are certain friends I get very excited about, because we’re relatively the same size, and they have great stuff.”

What kind of jewelry do you thrift?
“A lot of vintage rings. I got really into chokers and full neck cuffs for a while, so I got into searching for them online, mostly on Etsy. I prefer Etsy because you kind of find people who specialize in that sort of era.”

What are your rules when it comes to fabrics?
“I don’t thrift rayons or polyesters. They collect smell and are itchy, and not so great. I don’t wear fur unless it’s vintage, and I'll buy leather, fur, and suede. Then, really beautiful silks and cottons — vintage laces and cotton are the holy grail of vintage, but they’re so delicate that you have to really find them in good condition, otherwise they’re just relics that you can have around but not really wear.”

What’s the best thing you’ve ever thrifted?
“I love vintage Betsey Johnson dresses. I have four of them — they’ll never stop being wearable. I have a couple of perfect vintage slipdresses from Betsey Johnson. I also have this beautiful leather garment bag that I travel with. It’s the kind of leather that’s tanned, with roses embossed on the leather.”
Photographed by Timothy Sean O’Connell.
What are your thoughts on vintage shoes?
“I used to buy vintage shoes, but not pumps. They’re just not the same. Vintage boots are fantastic. I have been inspired by that sale, A Current Affair, where you can buy Issey Miyake or Céline boots from some years ago. It's all so beautifully made, and it comes back around, so if you’re a fan of a designer, you can get something by them even if you can't afford it new."

What about new clothes?
“I really like this store Mohawk General Store [in L.A.] and Sincerely, Tommy in New York. The reason I am attracted to vintage is the same reason why [I like these two stores], because you’re not going to run into someone with the same thing.”

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