“Sam Hill” is an old American euphemism that dates back to the early 1800s. Though there are several origins for the phrase, one possible story regarded a storeowner named Sam Hill. His store’s inventory was so vast with merchandise, that people began using the phrase “What in the Sam Hill is that?” to describe an item they found unusual. Though his shop is long gone, his spirit of unique treasures and relics can be found in a new local spot.
Sam Hill is a collection of vintage menswear and accessories located in East Austin. Unlike the average vintage shop, Kyle Muller has compiled an assortment that is highly selective. Upon meeting Kyle, it becomes apparent that finding old relics is something that comes natural to him. Hunting for these objects is inspired by “the thrill of uncovering something amazing,” he explains. “You never know what or when you will find it, then out of nowhere, you stumble upon a true treasure. It’s a feeling you get addicted to, and you just want more.”
As we walked through Sam Hill, we did find treasures, and though each item is different than the next, there seems to be a certain cohesiveness. “I am super critical when deciding what makes it onto a rack. I choose quality over quantity,” Kyle says. Not only is each item interesting and unique, it is obvious that Kyle has done his homework researching each item’s history. “I love clothes and relics from the past. I’ve been obsessed my entire life,” he said. “I noticed an unfilled niche in Austin for my vision of a highly refined vintage store. I strive to have a standard of inventory that differs from other places in town.”
From vintage cigarette lighters that Kyle actually refurbishes himself, to vintage Pendleton shirts, Sam Hill is an obvious split from the Hawaiian shirts and 1970s butterfly collars found at most men’s vintage shops. You are more likely to look like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke than John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever after shopping here.
Many of the items also show a love of classic American work wear. “In earlier generations clothing served more of a purpose,” Kyle said. “Back then, quality and functionality dictated style. If you had a work shirt with a hole, you patched it. If it ripped, you fixed it. It’s cool when a piece of clothing can tell a story and reveal something about the past.”
Although treasure hunting seems to be a thing of the past, a few moments in Sam Hill will excite the notion that the quest hasn’t died all together. As we leave, there are a few small items that look unfamiliar hanging on the wall. It seems only appropriate that we would find ourselves asking, “What in the Sam Hill is that?”
Photo by Michael A. Muller