Column: The tyrannical rise of vintage markets

Just as you’re about to give up, you see it — a faded gray sleeve and hint of Carolina blue peeking out from a stack of SHEIN and H&M.

As if in a trance, you slowly walk over and deprive it of its quickly fashionable brothers and sisters. It’s stained in two places, slightly torn on the left sleeve and has a faint musty smell – but it’s a 2015 UNC t-shirt, which features a winking Ramses reclined while a blue devil kneels in front of him.

The shirt isn’t even old enough to be considered vintage and its poor quality raises several questions about its vile past ownership, but something about the potential romantic relationship between the Blue Devil and Ramses intrigues you. You flip the price tag and are confident that it will be somewhere in your $15 price range.

It costs $3,000.

The year is 2025 and you’re at the annual Thrifty Tar Heel Franklin Frat Thrift Vintage Flea Market Pop-Up Fest. Taking up all of Franklin Street, the UNC campus and Hooker Fields – even spilling slightly into Morrisville – this event is the culmination of Vintage War of Fall 2022.

let me explain.

In 2022, there were so many separate vintage markets (Tar Heel Market, Frat Court Flea, and Franklin Street Market Fest to name a few) that it was impossible for them all to stay in business. They had exactly the same concept, clientele and clothing. They were each other’s biggest competition – and something had to go.

At the end of September there was Tar Heel Market declared war on Frat Court Flea, who declared war on Franklin Street Market, who declared war on rumors (all three locations). At 9 p.m. on a Sunday, organizers from all five stores showed up at Hooker Fields, their best clothes in hand, ready for the fight. A representative of a local Uptown Cheapskate, standing in the middle of the field with a whistle ready to signal that it was time to attack, conducted the referee.

TWEEEET!

They were gone. Frat Court Flea walked the Tar Heel Market, $200 t-shirts pulled like swords as they started pointlessly hitting each other with clothes. Franklin Street Market grabbed a beanie up his thigh but countered by swinging a pair of their thickest baggy pants right into Rumors’ belly. Frat Court Flea’s view was obscured by a bunch of ’90s crew-necks, while Tar Heel Market’s legs were tied with the laces of a one-of-a-kind 1985 UNC Air Jordan 1 pair (men’s size 13).

Eventually the organizers collapsed to the ground, smothered in clothing and price tags. Rumors Durham and Rumors Chapel Hill were (and still are) in a stalemate, but the rest of the vintage markets limped towards each other, beaten and exhausted.

“Has anyone seen my 1999 limited edition baseball cap?” asked Franklin Street Market wearily.

“Yes, here it is,” answered Frat Court Flea, cap held out like an olive branch.

The semester-long war was over. Someone got hold of a 1987 felt-tip pen, and the three groups signed the deal on Vintage.

Eventually, after tending to each other’s (limited) wounds and handing out clothes, the three groups realized that the only way they could continue raking in hundreds of dollars from vintage-obsessed students was to band together as a group.

An old village. A variety of markets. A flea family.

With that, they formed the first-ever, soon-to-be-annual Thrifty Tar Heel Franklin Frat Thrift Vintage Flea Market Pop-Up Fest. In 2022, the event raised $800,000. Now, in 2025, it’s already grossed $2 million.

While most of the proceeds go straight to the organizer’s graywashed retro bags, they’ve recently started donating 0.001 percent to their favorite nonprofit: Goodwill.

So when you think about the $3,000 price tag on the Ramses shirt, just think about the good that this organization is doing. Despite its bloody history, this vintage market only wants you to look good, even if your bank account doesn’t. An old, beat-up t-shirt may seem worthless, but think how much it will be worth in 2028. Or 2030. Or 2045. This isn’t an overly expensive purchase – it’s an investment.

But what is the blue devil doing with Ramses?

@_hannahkaufmann

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