Cale Darrell, Whose Love of Vintage Clothing Is Downright Infectious

For this week’s Five Fits With, I met up with Cale Darrell, founder and proprietor of the Chicago-based Good Form, a really excellent vintage shop that rose to prominence for a couple of reasons: his meticulous eye, and his ingenious idea to do online drops in which the items were teased prior to release, something Darrell did long before this became the standard it is today. I met him late last year photographing an event for Sprezza’s holiday shop. He was one of the vendors, and since I arrived before customers, I had a chance to take in all he had to offer. I was tempted by a few things, but mistakenly told myself I’d wait till a lull in afternoon traffic to try some things on.

He’d not only sold out of all of the items I was interested in, but sold nearly all of his stock with time to spare. I clocked his excellent outfit, too. But what really got me was just how kind and patient he was. I knew from that point he’d make an excellent subject for this column. On a recent trip to New York over Cocoron soba bowls, Cale and I discussed his career in menswear and vintage, how his father’s marathoner past influenced his professional path, his upcoming clothing line, and plenty more.

Fit One

cale darrow of good form

Vintage clothing, accessories, and shoes (throughout); shirt jacket by Former Studies.

Tell me about what you were up to prior to Good Form, and how you decided to start it in the first place.

I ran a menswear store called Article Menswear. It focused on high-end denim and other menswear that Cincinnati didn’t have readily available at the time. I started to develop a small side hustle and saw more influx in money from selling vintage. So from there, I went and opened my first vintage shop. It was called Reunion Clothiers, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2017. I only ran it for a few years before moving to Chicago. But the move opened a new door with Good Form.

How did you first become interested in style and clothing?

I would see Esquire, GQ, and other fashion outlets and would want to look a certain way, but I couldn’t ever afford to buy nicer or expensive clothing. Jumping into thrift stores gave me an opportunity to play around with my style. I leaned more into these used garments because of the way they were already worn, repaired, faded—those kinds of things really started to speak to me. I was able to develop my own sense of style there. It gave me the chance to play around with creating my own look without paying for it.

Fit Two

cale darrow of good form

How did you get into selling vintage?

We were very blue collar growing up. My dad worked at a steel mill, but was also one of the better marathoners in the Midwest. He got hurt running the Boston Marathon right around the same time eBay was starting to pop off. He started pulling things out of the attic, listing them, and selling that shit for $200 to $500. He was sponsored, so he had a ton of sneakers. He then started calling up all of his old running buddies asking, “Hey, you still got those shoes?” I’m pretty sure he got all the way to Steve Prefontaine’s sister and had his jockstrap in our basement at one point. But all along the way, I was able to sit down next to him and watch exactly what he was doing. I guess that was sort of the start of it. So, I started selling some of the vintage I had found in thrift stores, novelty T-shirts and Levi’s, on Etsy when I was pretty young, like 19. Obviously, it’s morphed into something a lot bigger now, but has been really a slow process.

What do you do to separate Good Form from the seemingly endless host of available vintage options? What makes it special?

The unique thing about Good Form is simply how I offer it. I want you to be able to jump online and know exactly what is type of clothing is going to be there. Every drop you know there’s going to be some great Ralph [Lauren] piece mixed in with World War II pants, and a killer ’90s cap. Good Form isn’t a costume shop, it’s a direct reflection of who I am and how I dress. There’s so much accessible vintage in the world now but it can be overwhelming and I want to share something that is approachable, clean, and ready to wear. I want it to feel more like a lifestyle brand, bigger than just a “vintage store.” I feel like in the vintage world, you don’t necessarily always get that.

Fit Three

cale darrow of good form

How do you feel about the current vintage boom?

I love it. It’s done nothing but make my business and the industry grow for the better. It’s bigger than ever now and I think that only helps us all. At the end of the day, it’s nice to have your go-to dealer. Like, hey, if you’re trying to go get a pair of amazing vintage jeans, you have your guy. If you’re looking for vintage tailored goods, you’ve got a guy. If you’re trying to buy basic-ass mid Ralph and good military staples, I’m your guy.

Do you have any theme or set criteria when you’re on the hunt for new product?

The formula is pretty clear at this point. I love the American greats. Bold colors, rich fabrics, usually made in U.S.A. and absolutely no polyester.

Do you wear anything other than vintage?

Sustainability is key but I’ve never really lived it on purpose. I’ve just always lived this way. When I buy something new, I am pretty intentional about it. I gravitate toward well-made staple pieces that I’ll keep forever. I am constantly buying new clothing, but I’ll usually always buy it used. If I want something, there’s no point to me to buying new when I’ve taught myself to simply go find it. You can call me cheap, I guess, but it’s a part of who I am at this point. Who doesn’t want something already lived in anyways? But I am currently working on a new project. It’s a new clothing line called Former Studies. The brand will blend curated vintage with new garments and will be releasing next spring, but I don’t want to reveal too much yet. I’ve been working on this project for the last few years and beyond excited to share it.

Fit Four

cale darrow of good form

Are you on the hunt for anything in particular at the moment?

My closet is so small, man. As boring as it sounds, I like to think that I have everything that I need. I’ve always been someone who doesn’t need much. I just like to keep it really dialed in.

You don’t feel temptation to take something for yourself?

Always. Something will cycle into my closet but then dive right back out. I do this all the time. Every once in a while, I’ll find a piece that makes speaks to me and makes it into the rotation permanently.

When you’re not taking appointments or hunting for vintage, what do you do with your down time?

I feel like I’m constantly on the go. This is maybe the craziest thing about the job. When people say “love what you do”—I love my job. My whole world revolves around finding old clothing and when you take time off, you can’t help but feel like you might be missing something. I don’t give myself enough time but that’s just where I am right now. Simply going out to eat and enjoying some of life’s smaller moments are always huge for me.

Fit Five

cale darrow of good form

Trousers by Former Studies.

Give me a perfect day in Chicago. Favorite places for an Esquire reader to hit.

Metric Coffee is a must stop on most days. It’s in the West Loop and right next to my shop—good energy, a cool team, and I always run into a familiar face. I wore the hat in one of the fits, but my favorite restaurant is a small French restaurant called Le Bouchon. Steak frites, classic cocktails—no frills, just fucking great stuff. And maybe Thalia Hall for a show? It’s one of the most beautiful venues that I’ve ever been in. A stroll through Wicker Park is always fun. Amazing record stores, vintage shops, and places that have been there for decades.

If you had to wear one outfit for the rest of your life, what would it consist of?

I covet my 501s just like anyone else and I found the one pair that I would die in. I’d probably pair those with one of my dad’s old race tees. I think that’s kind of a “don’t forget where you’re from” kind of thing. For footwear, probably my beat to shit Birkenstocks or my New Balance sneakers. Comfort over style if it’s forever.


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