[retro4] The search for the perfect vintage shirt has extended past the likes of our parents’ closets and into mainstream American clothing stores.
Before merchants such as Urban Outfitters and American Eagle started reproducing the faded T-shirt look, the only place you could find clothing reminiscent of your childhood, besides the forgotten boxes so lovingly kept by your mother in hopes of one day clothing your future children, was usually at a Goodwill or Salvation Army.
But these days, it’s hard not to find worn, dated shirts, whether they are original or mass produced.
“It seems to have grown in popularity because you see people—celebrities and bands—wearing ‘vintage’ clothing from past years,” Libby Rehor, audiology and speech sciences sophomore, said.
[retro3] In reality, the fan base is mainly young adults, not the celebrities whom many admire for their fashion sense. While the Olsen twins might think their “Jesus is My Homeboy” shirts are cool, or Britney’s predictive “MILF-in-training” message across her chest, we, the young people of America, furnish the trend.
“It started out with a lot of kids wearing these kinds of things,” said Arun Das of RetroDuck, an online vintage T-shirt store. RetroDuck began with an MSU student, Sean Maday, who wanted to make extra money. Now the business has offices in downtown East Lansing, at the corner of Abbott Road and Grand River Ave., and sells to various local associations, as well as across the country. Open since 2002, RetroDuck began selling vintage T-shirts before most of the country really established retro wear as a concrete trend.
However, it’s hard to pinpoint when the fad actually began. Some people have always worn vintage clothing. Others caught on only after fashionable folks started wearing them. “I think it’s a look, it’s pop culture,” Adam VanLente, also of RetroDuck, said.
The important thing about this trend may be how to differentiate among the types of people who wear them. You don’t want to put a hardcore vintage T-shirt trendsetter into the same group as a sporadic concert tee wearer. “It’s a trend where you can still be unique, in some ways,” Rehor said.
[retro1b] There are a few different types of people who wear the vintage style of shirt. First, there are those who have been wearing this style practically their whole lives, spending hours perusing racks at secondhand stores for that perfect find to add to their wardrobes.
Then there are those who like the idea of replicating images either from their parents’ era or their own childhood. A throwback to the good ol’ days of Nickelodeon shows such as Salute Your Shorts, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and The Adventures of Pete and Pete is something that seems to be more and more popular among our generation.
“Half of our customer base is centered on things that people really want; it’s nostalgia,” VanLente said. In addition, there are people who like to keep up with the major trends and, since this constitutes one, will wear it.
“Seeing other people wear [these shirts] makes everyone else want to wear them,” Jon Barth, political science and public policy sophomore, said. Barth, along with some friends, started his own small T-shirt business. Since it seems to be cool these days to make T-shirts with print on them, they thought, why not?
[retro5] “We’re broke college students and figured it would be an easy way to make money, so we cashed in on nostalgia,” Barth said.
So, there are two major categories regarding these shirts: vintage and vintage-themed. The former are actual shirts from the past or shirts made from original iron-ons from primarily the 1970s and ‘80s, such as those RetroDuck sells. “It seemed more original to do it this way,” VanLente said.
Plus, it appears their business foundation is more widely spread among the masses. “It’s a bigger demographic; we have actual vintage items, rather than vintage-themed,” Das said.
The latter of the two categories, vintage-themed, is the type of shirt found in chain stores, made to sell in mass quantities, such as those at Urban Outfitters and American Eagle. “I guess I don’t like the trend in that some things are mass-produced- the whole vintage-themed idea,” Rehor said. “It defeats the purpose.”
However, the shirts have become increasingly popular and have been for quite some time. We live in an era that promotes self-identity, and wearing a shirt that displays messages on the front is one of the best forms of self-display.
[retro2] Just keep the price in mind. You can often find a vintage T-shirt similar to the one in the mall by searching a little harder at a local secondhand store. Not only will you save a lot of money, but you can feel good knowing you truly have one-of-a-kind vintage. (Just watch out for ones that come with yellow pit stains.)
If all trends are what they say they are, will the vintage T-shirt industry soon be out of business, or will it grow in prosperity and thrive for many years to come? “People from decades past like to see this stuff come back,” Das said. How long will it be until The Spice Girls have their own T-shirt?
To best make use of the fashion fad, do what’s best for you. If you seek true originality, try a secondhand store. If you don’t mind dishing out a few bucks, find a store that sells actual vintage images on new T-shirts. And if you don’t mind the possibility of running into someone else with the same T-shirt, there are always chain stores.
For more information regarding RetroDuck’s vintage T-shirts, visit www.RetroDuck.com. For more information regarding any other vintage shirts, just step outside – they’re probably being sold on a street corner near you.
(In the spirit of self-promotion, I, Molly Benningfield, have decided to buy only clothing that has either my name on it or a cutesy characteristic of myself (i.e., short, blonde, probably not that funny); will start wearing handmade buttons with cool slogans like, “Vote For Pedro” and “I don’t have a boyfriend, but I know someone who would probably be mad at me for saying that,” and find off-the-wall trucker hats that have an obscure bar or specialty store in an unknown location from the year 1979, in which I wasn’t even born, printed on it.)

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