When it comes to thrift shopping, Macklemore has nothing on Mr. T.
Stanley “Mr. T” Thomas has more than 1,000 elements of style he curated for cheap.
He mixes, matches and accessorizes to sport a unique look every day.
Even when he’s darting into Fred Meyer for bread and milk, the 68-year-old retired construction worker adorns his slight build with a three-piece suit, tie, cuff links, jewelry and brimmed hat.
He just might be one of the most put-together guys in Everett.
“People think I’m a celebrity,” Mr. T said. “I wear my head up high. It makes me feel like a giant. Rich and famous. I walk like I’m proud.”
Former Herald photographer Genna Martin discovered him sashaying along downtown Colby Avenue like he owned it. She stopped her car and chased him down for his phone number.
“I knew he was something special,” she said.
Mr. T invited us into his wacky world of wardrobe.
His bachelor pad in a Casino Road apartment complex is like a giant closet. The bathroom towel bar is his tie rack. The hall is lined with vests. He shares his bedroom with stacks of hats and jewelry boxes. The second bedroom resembles a dry cleaners, with rack after rack of suits wrapped in plastic.
Persian wool. Pinstripe. Red velvet. Gucci.
Leather coats. Cummerbunds. Fedoras. Bow ties. Pins. Flowers. Earrings. Sunglasses.
“I got gear that I suit up in,” he said. “Something fresh to show this West Coast.”
It’s his lifelong dream to “fashion out,” he said.
“When I was a kid, all I ever wanted to do was get clothes and dress up. My grandma said I used to change four times a day. I said, ‘I got to look fresh, Grandma.’ ”
He’d beg to wear a white dress shirt to go out to play.
“We were dirt poor,” said the Virginia native. “I’d hustle. Wash cars, sell fishing worms, iced tea. Shot crap a lot. I hate to say this, but there were times I had to steal clothes because the rich guys had money. I didn’t have no money, but I was right up there with them.”
He quit school in the ninth grade for the Job Corps to learn a trade. It led to a livelihood scooping muck, pounding jackhammers and getting dirty, which might seem ironic for such a neatnik.
“Concrete and demolition. I did it for 42 years,” he said. “I’ve got rods and pins in my neck. Six pins and a plate in my left leg. A brand-new shoulder. All job-related. I have a bullet in my back from an argument with my cousin years ago. We’re friends now.”
The afflictions don’t hold him back from dodging carts and wayward hangers at Value Village.
His bounty is the discards of “lawyers and doctors and architects and whoever is sending those suits.”
On a recent trip to the Evergreen Way thrift shop he scored an Italian suit jacket, pants, tie and dress shirt — all for $22.
It took repeated poses in the mirror and several long sessions in the dressing room. With the concentration of a chess player he studied the choices at hand before paying the cashier who greeted him by name.
“A lot of guys don’t match it up right,” he said.
A nickname in his younger days was “Dap Daddy from Cincinnati,” though he never lived there. He was “Thrift Store King” when he retired four years ago and started hitting the bargain racks big-time to deck out his 5-foot-5 frame.
One day he introduced himself as Mr. T and it stuck.
“Some say, ‘You’re copying Mr. T.’ I say, ‘No, I’m not.’ I say, ‘Because I’m Mr. Thomas. I’ve earned that.’ Mr. T wouldn’t worry about it anyway, if he seen me.”
Pity the fool who pays full price for a suit. Or even a belt.
After living around Washington, he moved to Everett three years ago to meet new people and avoid some from his past. At night, he enjoys a beer and cigar at the Soundview Tavern on Hewitt Avenue. He in his suit, them in their jeans or biker chaps.
“I always announce him, ‘Mr. T is in the house,’ ” said bar chum Adam Miller. “He puts some class in it. I consider him an inspiration, and I’m half his age and twice his size. He leads by example. Everybody needs a little flair, and to put a little more Mr. T in their attitude.”
He’s a popular fellow.
“He loves talking to the ladies,” Miller said.
“And they love me,” adds Mr. T. “They say, ‘I like your look.’ ”
He has three kids and seven grandkids, but no wife or ex-wives. There’s nobody telling him how to dress, and he likes it that way.
He usually gets up at 3:30, primps for an hour, then boards the 5 a.m. bus to Seattle.
“A lot of people don’t even want to sit next to me, they think I’m a big wheel,” he said. “They treat me nice. ‘Sir, this’ and ‘Sir, that.’ I like that.”
He gets off at the same place: Virginia Street. “That’s where I start my walk. When I step off the bus, I snap my fingers and say, ‘It’s showtime.’ And the walk is on.”
A swoop through Westlake Center. A quick hand of cards at the union hall. Breakfast at the senior center. A brisk jaunt to keep that trim figure, swinging a cane that’s more for show than function.
“Some of the guys tease me, ‘You are wearing dead men’s clothes.’ They don’t have to be dead, because I donate myself. If they are dead, I wear it with pride,” he said.
“When I step out in my clothes I feel like I’m worth millions. I don’t need a whole lot of money in my pocket to have happiness. As far as wealth, they can have their wealth. I’ve got mine: Value Village, Goodwill, all of them. They gave it to me. All the stuff I wanted, I’m getting. That’s all I ever wanted as a little boy.”
Mr. T shows no signs of slowing down.
“I’ve put my best out there and I’m not done,” he said. “There’s better to come. There’s more clothes out there.”
Mr. T by the numbers
- 200 ties
- 170 shirts
- 150 pants
- 145 vests
- 130 pairs of shoes
- 110 suits
- 115 dress shirts
- 65 hats
- 65 leather coats
- 40 tie clips, chains &tacks
- 30 sport jackets
- 30 overcoats/topcoats
- 30 pairs of cuff links
- 25 earrings
- 20 pairs of sunglasses
- 20 bow ties
- 20 scarves
- 20 canes/walking sticks
- 18 bottles of cologne
- 16 belts
- 15 cummerbunds
- 15 suspenders
- 15 watches
- 12 wallets
- 8 handbags/briefcases
- 1 man