Do This Don't: Thrift Store T-Shirts

Thrifted shirts are experiencing an uncool moment. But they're friendly on the budget, the environment, and your rack.

Mar 20, 2012 at 9:00am | Leave a comment

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A few months back when I was home for Christmas, my sister and her boyfriend and I watched what I'm pretty certain were 300 episodes of "What Not to Wear." Conservative estimate.

That type of makeover show kind of makes me squirm. Sure, it's always fun to watch somebody burst into tears during a hair cut, but it seems like there's a lot of shaming people out of stuff they seem perfectly happy wearing and into the same lame wrap dresses and three-quarter-length blazers (blegahhhhh).

But this one episode really got to me: It was a girl who had this totally sweet collection of vintage band T-shirts. You know that segment where Clinton and Stacey dump all of your stuff into a big bin for charity? They were just shoving all of these unreal, paper thin, probably-very-valuable shirts and tanks into a garbage can.

UGH, it killed me. You'd have thought I was watching "Groin Punting"  on the Kick in the Gooch Channel, from the anguished noises I was making. ANGUISHED.

I love my band T-shirts. I know. I KNOW.

I am not a 17-year-old boy in 1988. But I have been dressing like one since roughly then. All of my shirts look like they should smell like KOOLs and carwash water. I guess that, by proxy, so do I.

My party line is "It's not like I wear them to interviews," but I actually did once. I mean, it was totally appropriate, given the job, which incidentally I got. (Whatever, I wore a jacket.)

In this age, it's gauche and borderline Hot Topic-y. It does not really say much about the place of one's ass on the badness scale. But nothing quite fits like holey 50-50 poly cotton blend. It's like a second skin made out of Kip Winger.

I think part of the problem is -- as I was just discussing with a friend -- that to me, everything in fashion and music has only gone down hill since ZZ Top released "Eliminator." I realize this is somewhat ridiculous, given my not being born yet at the time, but what can I say? I'm an old soul and "Gimme All Your Lovin" fucking sucks.

Alas, somewhere along the line, it became mega uncool to wear band T-shirts. Can we make it okay again so I don't have to throw mine into A BIN? Thinking about doing that fills me with dread and hoarder sympathy.

I don't really buy new band shirts because they tend to be thick and unflattering (Nobody likes those heavy duty Hanes shirts, bands! Nobody!) with notable exceptions like IWrestledABearOnce, which is a metal band with a brutal female vocalist and SUPER SICK merch. Don't worry: I have never actually used the term "merch," and I never will again, after those two instances.

They're just all bands that I like to a greater or lesser degree (I sing "Mandy" as loud as the next guy but I mostly wear my Barry Manilow shirt because it makes my boobs look amazing). It's mostly butt-rock and punk with some Genesis and Fleetwood Mac types thrown in for good measure. (Being too hardcore ALL the time is exhausting. Ask Meatloaf.) I am by no means a music dork -- I cannot rattle off Nazareth track listings like some kind of Nazareth-obsessed Rain Man, and my contributions to debates tend to run along the lines of, "Well, Gary Cherone seems awfully nice."

Thrifting was all the rage when I was in high school and then quickly fell out of favor when irony backlash hit hard, and everybody stopped liking Led Zepplin and hipsters disappeared forever (fairly confident that happened).

But here's why that brief Used T-Shirt craze was awesome: Old shirts are flattering on everybody.

I'm shaped like a figure eight roughly the color and texture of whole wheat pretzel dough. I rarely find things that button or zip that aren't custom tailored or the result of some kind of gross quality control negligence.

I propose we return to the glorious era of stuff that slides over the top of your head, requires no dry cleaning, and is cool to spill marinara on.

This Don't should be revived In This Economy, because it's clearly not expensive and pairs well with old jeans and affordable cotton mini-skirts. They suit a devil-may-care attitude and an "ambulatory breast implant with stick figure limbs" body type.

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I don't really think much about this because I'm an ignoramus, but there's also an element of sustainability to buying old ass clothes. I continue to shop at your yard sales and your church basements and the greatest used clothing store on the planet, Cleveland's Unique Thrift clothing superstore. Everything is half price on Mondays and nothing in the whole place is more than $30, which includes whole couches. It smells like mothballs, water-logged Candyland boxes, and whatever all of Ratt's collective balls smelled like after a show's worth of being packed into skin-tight denim.

Now, if you're saying, "Hold up, some of this stuff is very costly," you're right, but you should join me in refusing to pay a ton of money for vintage T-shirts. I am happily cheap when it comes to clothing and besides, I feel like too much of a markup would upset Dio. I have a very strict if wildly arbitrary method for buying shirts, and anything with big city vintage pricing turns me into a grandmother at a third world bazaar. $150 dollars for this? Who are you kidding, Berlin? Here's a ten. Throw in that Rocket from the Tombs shirt or get out of my face.

I grant you, some vintage shirts can be kind of obnoxious. This is why I no longer wear "ho ho, aren't these funny" Salvation Army finds like my Nancy Brothers Pizza shirt (but think about brothers making pizza and being nancies! ahahahahha), or my awesome "Fun Run for Soviet Jews" tee that my mother tried to throw out THREE TIMES. Nice try, mom. Go Soviet Jews! Go ME.

It's not like I'm not wearing any of this stuff to funerals (although I admittedly have sort of a bad grip on appropriate funeral behavior -- but that's another post that will bring shame on my family). I blog for a living, and I am generally not invited to the kind of establishments where you'd find a lapel, so this look suits me.

Some band shirts, I realize, are just irredeemably uncool. Wearing a shirt from a certain tour can be the equivalent of singing a bar-clearing song at karaoke (looking at you, well-meaning Fiona Apple aficionadas). For example: This amazing Journey shirt that I had to stop wearing after the "Sopranos" finale ignited a brief brushfire of "Escape"-O-mania. My admittedly awesome "Thriler" tank still just feels... too soon. And I realize that some bands are just off limits because of their je ne sais Don't Belong on a T-Shirt quoi: see The Clash, The Ramones, Nirvana, anybody else you might find in mass reproduction at your local mall. (Although, you know, no judgement here -- I owned a KISS tank top once.)
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I don't know, maybe I want to bring back clothing from this era because I'm an middle-aged uncle trapped in the body of a doughy young lady (when he should be trapped in the body of a hardbodied young lady in the back seat of a bitchin' Camaro, am I right?).

Or maybe it's because a vintage clothing from 1986 is still newish enough that there's less of a chance of the previous owner being dead and haunting you. Giiiiiiive me back my Scorpionsssss half-shiiiiiiirt. Ha ha, nice try, restless spirit of some guy named Ron. This thing is mine fair and square. Go menace a Jiffy Lube.

But when the temperature in New York hit 55*, I became a permanent resident of my favorite pair of cutoffs, so I have to crusade for their natural accompanying counterpart, the aged, holey old band tee. Nothing quite goes with jorts like Joan Jett. OK, and maybe a tall-boy of Coors and a couple of solicitation convictions.

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