What Is Hip?

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a hipster: live in the cool places, wear the cool clothes, drink the cool beverages. Too bad that’s not my lot in life. I’ve spent my entire existence 37.5° out of phase with the rest of the world which means being hip has always been a mathematical impossibility for me. A little too much behind the beat but not enough to turn you on. I do know hip when I see it though, and I got more than an eyeful at The Usuals last week on The Alameda.

The Usuals is a clothing and accessories boutique that opened in April. It’s owned by brother-and-sister team Mike and Mari Millares, San Jose natives who have a longtime passion for fashion. They also have deep love for their home town so they created a shop that uniquely celebrates clothes and the San Jo’. This is most immediately evident in Mike’s Deadstok line of printed tee shirts, especially his iconic “I ♥ SJ” design with a teal shark-jawed heart. That’s how I came to learn of The Usuals. They had a booth at the Rose, White, & Blue festival and were selling “The Alameda” shirts. Pinch me. “Um…I’ll take one of those.” My first visit to the brick-and-mortar store however was Friday, July 23 when they hosted an event. What kind of event? That takes a bit of explaining. The best way I can describe it is: it was a San Jose mashup.

The Usuals is a clothing store, so clothes of course were the focus. They feature their own clothing designs as well as lines from other local designers. On top of that they host rotating art exhibits in the store so the Friday event was an opening reception for a Lost San Jose photography exhibit which will run until August 24. But wait, there’s more. In the back of the store they held a trunk show, showcasing jewelry from local artists. I’m not done. They presented a fashion show with some help from models from Ready2model, a talent agency. The models were styled on-site by 5 Color Cowboy, a salon further up The Alameda. The event was a fundraiser; they donated part of their Deadstok sales to the Trace Elementary School rebuilding fund to help them recover from their devastating July 5 fire. [Click here to donate by check or PayPal so classrooms can be ready before the kids start school in the fall.] They had a DJ from The Bangerz Crew providing atmosphere and an MC, Don Prahfit, freestyling during the fashion show. Inside they had refreshments provided by Chris Talosig. Outside they had ice cream and karaoke provided by Treatbot. Get the picture? I’m tired just describing it all.

Usuals Lost San Jose

Our whole family had quite The Alameda evening. We started with dinner at Tee Nee Thai. It was my wife’s first time and she loved it. I had the amazing Mussamun Lamb and asked for it hot but not “Thai hot;” I may be stupid but I’m not crazy. We enjoyed chatting with our friendly Tee Nee waitress who confirmed it’s a family-owned place staffed by cousins. She thinks an uncle  came up with the name because the place is so small. “You should see our kitchen,” she said. I think this is becoming my favorite Thai restaurant because the vibe is so warm and homey and every dish I’ve had there has been a winner.

IMG_9701Afterwards we rolled down to The Usuals, stepped inside, and my head started to spin from sensory overload. There was so much going on, I couldn’t process it. Clothes, photos, music, people, jewelry, live hair-styling. Most disconcertingly there were models walking around the store being photographed by paparazzi. I’m just not used to this. It seemed every time I stopped somewhere to catch a breath, I was in somebody’s way, awkward like an ox, so I did the only sensible thing. I stepped outside for some ice cream.

CIMG1270Treatbot was there with their van. Treatbot is one of the South Bay’s social-network-promoted roving upscale food trucks, a trend that’s sweeping the nation. They sell ice cream sandwiches and cones but they have a gimmick: there’s a karaoke machine attached to the truck. Instant party. A customer was serenading his family with “Superfreak” as I was placing my order. “Temptations, sing!” I ordered an ice cream sandwich on chocolate chip cookies and the flavor I chose was “408,” a lascivious chocolate concoction with caramel ribbon and Oreo cookie crumbs. It was sinfully heaven. I think the flavor is their own original creation; their ice cream is made locally.

CIMG1272Sufficiently bumped up to a higher energy level, I once again broached The Usuals and this time managed to sync up with my surroundings. I had a great talk with Josh Marcotte, the photographer behind Lost San Jose. His granddad was an old-time San Jose resident and history buff so Josh grew up hearing stories and appreciating our landmarks and neighborhoods. Recently however he became increasingly aware of how the past is fading away, either on its own or hurried along by development and progress. Parts of San Jose are becoming “lost.” At first he tried to capture some of the receding treasures in writing, then taught himself photography and took to the lens instead. He walks around and snaps images of aged architecture and decaying city scapes. The result is a haunting, evocative collection. His interest resonates with my El Camino Real obsession, and he has inspired me to kick my own photography up a notch.

IMG_9705IMG_9736I did in fact have my camera with me so I took a bunch of photos. Josh brought his enchanting collection of vintage cameras and had them on display in the store. Cameras as it turns out are extremely photogenic. Also photogenic was Eva, a model who tirelessly circulated around the store all night promoting Ready2model, cheerfully posing for anyone with a camera, your humble blogger included.

It was a great evening. I’m not much for nightlife so it was a real treat to get out and hang with the hipper set for a while. I love that The Usuals are on The Alameda. The Millares exhibit a blend of creativity, currency, and community-sense that will drive The Alameda’s Town Center to new pinnacles of cool. I may not be hip enough to go there with them, but at least I’ll be able to say I bought the tee shirt.

The Usuals

1020 The Alameda, San Jose, CA

See all my photos at Flickr.

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