Saturday, November 28, 2009

#35 - Vintage T - Shirts

It was the decade when...

Plain white tees were so done.

To be a slave to fashion one must keep their expectations wide open. What may be required to stay on the forefront of shifting trends is not necessarily a big wallet and a trip to fifth avenue. No, in the Aughts, for a casual look that was a la moment, you had to forsake the professional sartorial institutions altogether and rummage through piles of faded and old T-Shirts piled high at your local thrift store.

This is not a retro revival, this is irony chic. When searching for a Vintage Tee it's best to look for the most unexpected design possible. For instance, an old T-Shirt for a youth summer camp is good....
but a Jewish youth summer camp is better.

Pop culture iconography is always a winner, especially if a shirt features characters from cancelled Saturday morning cartoons.

Superheroes work too,
but not if it's a tasteless mass-produced image from the past 25 years.

If you are of an edgier ilk, tops stamped with shabbily silk screened images of old rock bands can give you a grungy vibe.

Ironic text is a must, particuarly if the shirt features any religious messages.
Product and company logos are f-u-n, especially if the logo style has been discontinued or if the company no longer exists.

If the product is associated with childhood memories, like Cereal brands
or long-forgotten toys and games,
you've hit the graphic-Tee jackpot. 8-bit Video game imagery is a category unto itself.

It wasn't long before mainstream apparel companies appropriated the aesthetic and mass produced their own faux-vintage graphic tees. Urban Outfitters has made a whole business off of the style.

What is the appeal of the vintage tee? What does the childlike content of the imagery say about its wearer? Obviously, the primary function here is irony. Dressing like a walking billboard for a defunct company, or sporting an obviously dated design style is an extremely self-conscious way to dress. Not merely about "looking good" a vintage Tee gives an outfit editorial content. The shirt becomes a kind-of punchline. But, not simply an arch exercise in self-aware post-modern expression, there is a real Freudian undercurrent sustaining the popularity of the vintage tee.

By reengaging with the symbols, imagery and graphical style prevalent in childhood memories- the wearers of Vintage Tees are almost always born in the 70's or 80's - the anxiety of nostalgia is abated. The lingering affection Vintage Tee wearers have for the products, companies and images featured on these shirts would, if exposed, threaten to neutralize the aura of cool and disaffection that young people in the Aughts cultivate as their default attitude. There are few things less apathetic than a child's excitement when playing with his new toy; few things more uncool than the smile on the face of a kid when he gets dropped off to summer camp for the first time. These feelings are confronted and then submerged, (or secretly indulged) when the object of sentiment is de-contexualized, slapped onto a shirt and literally worn on the outside of the body like armor made of irony. The vintage tee may be the height of cool, but underneath, its very warm and fuzzy.

You AUGHT to remember.


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