What do you think of when you hear the word “retro”? Flares? Dodgy wallpaper? Betamax? Admittedly, none of the above are particularly fashionable, but while bygone decades have produced some very uncool things, they’ve also churned out some of the finest fashion ever to grace God’s green Earth. Living in the past may not be healthy. Embracing it in retro T-shirt form, however, is a solid style move whether you’re part of the nineties fashion revival, like the tie-dye trend or just never grew out of your favourite Nasa tee. So, stop looking to the future for your sartorial inspiration and get digging through the archives instead. From vintage football shirts to band tees from rock-n-roll royalty, these are the retro T-shirts you should be filling your wardrobe with right now.
You don’t have to be a Royal Tenenbaum to rock a bit of retro sportswear, but before you go reaching for the full tracksuit and headband you’d be well advised to take a quick look at what’s available in the T-shirt department instead. Sports brands are responsible for some of the biggest hitters when it comes to classic retro tees, with many iconic styles going unchanged for generations. To nail the look, team one up with a pair of chino shorts in the summer, or slim-fit jeans in the winter and tie it together with another dose of throwback sportswear action in the shape of some stripped-back, retro running shoes.
What better way to score some retro style points than by decking your torso out in images of your favourite throwback bands and musicians? The band tee is one of those rare items you wore as a greasy-haired teenager that is still worthy of a place in your wardrobe today. Although hopefully you’ve since switched the oversized Limp Bizkit T-shirt out for something a little less… well, we’ll let you choose the last word of that sentence. As a rock-music staple, black is the default colour of choice here, and for best results, should be worn with dark, slim-fit denim, black boots and a leather jacket. The only other rule is you can’t wear a band you’ve never listened to – a style commandment ignored by thousands of students who definitely weren’t into the Ramones circa 2009.
The older we get, the more it’s obvious that geeks have inherited the world. And what could be cooler than knowing what you like, being thoroughly passionate about it and wearing your heart on your sleeve? Even if what you like does happen to be side-scrolling 1980s video games, vintage computer hardware and reruns of Star Trek: Voyager. Embrace your inner nerd with a retro T-shirt fit for a young Bill Gates. Plus, you’re not at school any more, so your chances of getting wedgied for wearing a Nintendo 64 top have significantly reduced.
Retro Football Shirts
Football and fashion have always enjoyed a close relationship – from the label-conscious lads lining the terraces of the 1980s to the inside of Hector Bellerin’s walk-in wardrobe. Then there are the jerseys. The beautiful game has produced some beautiful kits over the years, and you don’t need to be an overpaid Premier League left-back to wear them. A retro football tee makes for excellent festival fodder, so why not go full Madchester and pair one with shorts, a bucket hat and your favourite sneakers – bonus points if they’re Adidas Sambas.
Skate & Surf Tees
It’s no exaggeration to suggest that had it not been for surfing and skateboarding culture, streetwear as we know it today may never have existed. Boardsports brands are responsible for some of the most iconic motifs and images in fashion, from the iconic Thrasher Magazine font through to Shawn Stussy’s world-famous script logo. The good news is you don’t have to dress like a teenager in order to pull these styles off any more. The absorption of streetwear into mainstream fashion means that teaming a retro surf or skate-inspired T-shirt with anything from a smart overcoat and cropped trousers to jeans and a flannel shirt is fair game. There’s no excuse for not getting involved.
Thanks in no small part to Justin Bieber and the confusing rise of the scumbro, tie-dye is, almost unbelievably, a “thing” again. These days, you’re just as likely to spot stars of screen and social media in this garish, headache-inducing design as you are the ageing hippy who runs your local health-food shop. It’s not for the faint of heart, mind you. Pulling this sort of style off requires balls of steel and some suitable garments to match. For example, you’re never going to be able to make a tie-dye T-shirt work paired with dress trousers and a set of brogues. Instead, go for colourful versions of laid-back staples. Think block-colour joggers or acid-wash jeans, bold dad sneakers and accessories like baseball caps and beanies. Because if you’re going to get this right, you’ll have to go the whole nine yards.
Eighties & Nineties Tees
This world-changing 20-year period brought us everything from MTV to Tamagotchis, gaming consoles to the actual internet. It may be over but for better or worse, its essence lingers on in the world of fashion, which means menswear’s current obsession with anything that could’ve come from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s wardrobe department is only just getting started. Purchasing an eighties- or nineties-inspired tee is a safe way to dip your toes in the trend and give it a go, without going all out and channelling the spirit of Mr Motivator. To really nail it, look out for bold, colourful prints, throwback pop-culture references and baggy cuts.