Peter Belz was born and raised in Hampden and did his best to leave when he came of age. But he returned to become one of the neighborhood's best and most colorful boosters. "I spent most of my youth trying to get away from here. I saw it as a really backward place. I moved away, came back and fell in love with the backwardness of it all," says Belz, 32, who emulates his late grandfather's sartorial standards with loud, mismatched plaids, lots of polyester and a profusion of untrendy hats.
Belz toned his look down while managing Cafe Hon for five years. But now, the one-time rock singer, with partner Scott French, has opened Thredhed on 36th Street, where visitors can pore through all kinds of vintage goodies, including some items that just might have escaped from Belz' own closet.
Did restaurant management cramp your style?
Unfortunately, at work, I had to wear work-related black clothing. I was sort of a polyester man, unfortunately. I wore Tom Jonesy-looking polyester outfits. Now that I'm doing this store, I'm starting to breathe again.
What did you wear off-duty?
For a while I was known around town as the Lobster Man. I had a skin-tight polyester suit, and an 8-foot lobster outfit I would wear with it. It was a publicity stunt. I showed up at various things around town in it. People would shout, "Lobster Man, Lobster Man, do a little dance!"
What did you wear when playing with your band, Jerkwater?
I was flamboyant in my dress, but not in a way like George Clinton. I wore old "Brady Bunch" style outfits. I'm sort of a thick person. This stuff fit, it expanded with me. It was flexible wear for jumping around on stage.
Now, what do you wear?
Lately, it's more of an old-man, 1950s look. Like my grandfather. He wore the old hats that JFK did away with -- felt brimmed hats. I always tried to go for more of a '50s style, not as if I were at the hop, but what my granddad looked like in the '50s.
Was he dapper?
He was anti-dapper. He wore plaid pants and completely opposite plaid shirts. He was obscene sometimes.
Your nerdy black glasses are all the rage.
I went to renew my license and failed the visual test. I had an all-in-one eye exam, and these are just the ones I got with it. Then everyone started wearing them.
Describe a favorite thrift find.
It's a smoking jacket or some really far-out dress jacket. It's lime -- green, crushed velvet, almost like a tuxedo coat, with black lapels and vibrant, paisley lining. It's at least 25 years old.
Where do you get this stuff?
My shopper, Lady Lily. She does all the shopping for the store and she looks for me. She wakes up at 7 in the morning and drives up to Pennsylvania daily, and goes to flea markets and warehouses. I don't even know what she does.
Do you find clothing in Hampden?
Here in the community, it's getting hard to find stuff; it's still on people.
Why did you open the store?
I always wanted to find one-of-a-kind pieces. To go into a store and not find 30 to 100 of the same things on a rack.
What do you carry at Thredhed?
A lot of different things. In the vintage line of clothing, '70s polyesters, colorful, funny stuff. We also have women's suits from the 1950s with wool skirts and tops. And we have a pretty good collection of faux furs. Leopard is selling like crazy. We sold probably six leopard jackets in the last week and a half.