Vintage T-Shirts 101: How They Became a Status Symbol
From old anime t-shirts to retro gaming and graphic sweatshirts, vintage t-shirts have become prevalent in today’s youth culture. A vintage t-shirt is an excellent fashion equaliser, primarily how it represents its wearer’s interests, whereas a “regular” t-shirt may just be another shirt.
You might get lucky spotting them at the flea market or thrift store, but you’re more likely to come across them at a vintage retail store, on eBay, or at a Japanese vintage clothing shop.
The History of Vintage T-Shirts
Graphic t-shirts have become a closet staple since the early 90s, and in recent years, vintage graphic tees have become a hot-ticket item in the fashion industry.
The first mass-produced graphic tees can be traced back to the 1930s, but you can find the true origin of graphic tees in the 70s when custom t-shirt shops became more widespread. As the fashion trend picked up, so did the demand for novelty t-shirts.
The Rise of Band T-Shirts
During the 70s, fans began purchasing band t-shirts to represent their favourite artists. Since then, band t-shirts have become an icon of that particular musical era and the best bands from the period, from The Beatles to The Ramones, have their cult following of fans who delight in brandishing their favourite band’s t-shirts.
The rise of punk music in the 80s garnered t-shirts as a symbol of counterculture. During the 90s, the mass appeal of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the like boosted the popularity of band t-shirts even more.
The Evolution of Film-Inspired T-Shirts
The same scenario applied to movie t-shirts. Movie t-shirts had their roots in the 70s when blockbuster movies like Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Star Trek were released. Fans began purchasing t-shirts to homage their favourite characters or parody their favourite movies.
By the mid-80s, brands like Nike, Sony and Coca-Cola produced t-shirts with their branding emblazoned.
From the 90s to Today
The 90s saw the rise of nostalgia and interest in vintage items. People began to collect old toys, video games, and other fashion memorabilia from the past. At the same time, Japanese fashion was gaining traction in the West, and the Japanese vintage fashion industry was simultaneously booming.
The two were a perfect match, and Japanese vintage and vintage-inspired brands regularly opened in New York and California.
Vintage graphic tees have become so popular that celebrities have started to hop on the bandwagon. For example, Kanye West released a unique line of vintage T-shirts in 2012.
Graphic T-Shirts as Symbol of the Times
Graphic t-shirts have also been used to symbolise a movement. For example, Dior released "We Should All Be Feminists" shirts for their Spring/Summer 2017 runway. Other brands that hopped into the campaign are Stella McCartney, Celine, and Gucci. The shirts were an immediate hit and quickly sold out.
Vintage t-shirts have come a long way since the days of the 70s and 80s; now more than ever, they have become a token of identity and style. The short-sleeved pullover has developed from a staple of school uniforms to a symbol of youth culture. The new wave of graphic t-shirts is a testament to that.
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