Matt Joy has a deep respect for the stories that objects tell us about history and the people who owned them. Since the days when he was a young boy growing up on a fully functional farm in Sabina, Ohio, feeding the animals, mowing grass and doing other tasks involved in daily operation, he’s been interested in things that tell uniquely American stories. Workwear, military gear and sports memorabilia — generally anything that was handcrafted in the U.S. — have captured his attention and imagination since before he can remember, and he is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge on the subjects.
Joy’s great-grandfather built the house that three generations of his family have lived in for more than 100 years. His grandfather was the science teacher in town who coached basketball and knew everybody in their church community.
“I’ve always been kind of enamored with old things,” says the twentysomething full-time vintage dealer, part-time DJ. “Even as a kid, the school I went to was over 100 years old. I could spend hours just looking at the lockers, the wood floor of the gymnasium and the old trophy case.”
Because of his love for historical artifacts, Joy was always the one that people in town called when someone moved or passed away and needed their belongings sorted through and donated to charity. Knowing the provenance of the items and appreciating their testimony to the American way of life became a preoccupation for Joy, and he can spout off information about the history of various brands’ fabric mills and current state of operation.
Specializing in American-made goods has been a natural evolution for the stylish dresser, and growing up on a farm was integral in cultivating Joy’s aesthetics. The more his collection grows, the more he has become hyper-concerned with issues of locality and conscientious consumerism.
“You should think about the things that you wear just like anything else,” Joy says. “The things you eat, the places you frequent … the closer you keep it to where you live, the faster it’s going to come back to you.”
And he doesn’t just give lip service to issues of local sustainability.
Joy lives out his aesthetic principles down to the clothes he wears, the reasonable prices he charges for his items in his Etsy store and the multitude of local businesses he personally invests in, and to which he refers his own customers.
Joy sends his clients to local businesses like seamstress Kim Dao, (whose storefront on Court Street is just blocks away from Joy’s loft apartment in Over-the-Rhine), because she custom-fits pieces at reasonable prices and is, according to Joy, “the nicest lady ever.” He’s had Dao cut the sleeves off of a Levi’s jean jacket and put on sleeves she made out of some Pendleton wool (one of the many “heritage brands” Joy mentions often) he had laying around. The talented tailor completed it in just two days. “And it looks amazing,” Joy says.
Joy has lent out his Levi’s 1950s Big E trucker jean jacket to Chris Sutton at local jean and clothing company Noble Denim so that he could see how it was sewn and visually dissect it to learn the stitching and cutting details. A month later, the designer was wearing a prototype of a jacket, based on Joy’s piece.
People like Dao and Sutton are the kind of artists and craftsmen that Joy really respects and looks to support with his own business. “Back in the day, every single town had somebody whose job it was to make clothes or to be a tailor,” Joy says. He speaks wistfully about being able to go to such a tradesman and choose from among 700 different options just for collar point cuts alone.
Showing off a 1930s International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union workbook detailing the various specifics of cut and stitches, Joy waxes romantic about the pride and artistry involved in the jobs these skilled artisans — and others like them — performed.
“These women were incredibly well-respected and had great jobs and loved what they did. Yeah, it was a factory,” Joy says, “and I don’t know where along the lines that got such a bad connotation or how it became a secondary job. But they’re artists in their own right. That entire part of our country has just dissolved away.”
The fact that Joy himself lives in a 127-year-old textile factory where overalls and workwear used to be made (there was once a 50-foot cotton loom in his apartment) suits the young man. The story of what objects tell is, after all, of primary importance to him.
This past Memorial Day Joy found himself at an elderly couple’s yard sale in Hamilton. For almost three hours, he chatted with the couple and traded stories that Joy had learned from his grandpa. The man, like his grandfather, was a World War II veteran, so he felt it was an appropriate way to spend his holiday. He bought a few things, paying what they asked, and after they were done — as happens so often with this soft-spoken history buff country boy — the two offered their new friend the opportunity to search their attic for anything he might be interested in that they were unable to pull out for their yard sale.
For his time, Joy found several Beacon blankets, a Miami University marching band uniform from 1955 and a 1940s business card for a Jack O’Brien, “Wholesale and Retail Dealer in Love, Kisses and Up-to-date Hugs,” whose novelty card proudly proclaims he was just “looking for a widow.” And while there is little fortune in ephemera like the aforementioned card, it testifies to the life of a person who left behind clues to his existence — which is why Joy found it collectible.
“I’m the kid who still has every concert ticket since I was 13,” Joy says with a sly smile. “Things like that — experiences I’ve had — they’re all just documentations of history.” ©
Shop MATT JOY’s treasures at etsy.com/shop/littleshopofmatthews.