Can you dig it, man?
Some things never go away, despite their adverse effect on humanity. Mullets. Fanny packs. Parachute pants. Furry boots. What's really melting all the ice caps? The previously mentioned items (plus Paris Hilton, obviously). Population earth continues to make many blunders and missteps in the fashion world, leaving a giant stain on society's enormous butt.
Conversely, some styles are just as cool now as they were back then. When is back then? That's a little harder to define. It seems that people's interests have only diversified in the last 10 to 20 years. Some people would define the 80s as vintage, even though many of us still remember it like yesterday (am I showing a bit of age?). Even today, it's not impossible to find pockets of rockabilly and pinup culture, dreadlocked hippies, and long-haired leather-wearing hair metal rockers with perms. This could be going on in your own backyard. Sounds like a scary party to me.
Movies like The Wedding Singer, Austin Powers, Starsky & Hutch or TV shows like That '70s Show continues to bring back classic and vintage style to the eyes of the modern viewer. You might remember Napoleon Dynamite from 10 years back, with his suave brown, tweed suit. Yep, that would be an example of timeless vintage fashion. Hardcore!
This doesn't mean that everything you see on the silver screen or the small screen is cool. Oh god no. I'm sure you could still catch Richard Simmons workouts or Twisted Sister music videos if you really wanted to. Do a quick Google search on both and see what you find.
So let's not be too quick to squeeze into our bell bottoms and go disco dancing. There is definitely good and bad vintage wear. Here's how to take some cues from vintage design and incorporate it into your own swag.
Keep It Simple
It's easy to forget that the existence of merchandise pre-dates the formation of the Adobe Suite and Photoshop (*gasp!*). Back in the day, merchandise design oftentimes had to be simple, by necessity. There are plenty of vintage two-or-three-tone band shirts that featured little more than a logo (or a bit of text) slapped on the front. Sometimes it was a grainy photo of the band, or just their album artwork. So go grainy and low quality if you want to be vintage.
Even today, there isn't necessarily a need to be complicated. Simple designs with narrow focus are appealing to the eye. Just look at how websites have changed from graphically-heavy (from about 10 years ago) back to simple and clean again. There's probably a good reason for that. Either that or designers are just getting lazier. Get back to work, designers!
Use Vintage Style Fonts
Perhaps the easiest way to achieve vintage design is by downloading and trying out a few vintage style fonts. They're relatively easy to find, and they're generally free too. There is something about specific fonts that really scream retro, and even if every other part of your design is already retro in feel, you will likely need a good font to tie it all together. Just trust me on this. It will help a lot.
Use Bright Colors
This probably isn't going to work for every merch item, but bright colors have never really gone away completely (*sigh*), and in some cases they really lend themselves well to vintage style design. In the 60s, 70s, 80s and to a degree even in the 90s people weren't safe from eye-catching eye-blinding colors. A great modern-day example is Katy Perry (especially the "California Gurls" video; I hate when that song gets stuck in my head). Three decades of fashion can't be wrong (*cringe*), so go ahead and experiment with fluorescent and neon. In moderation please.
Use Fisheye Lens Photography
For whatever reason, the fisheye lens was quite popular in the psychedelic 60s (gee I wonder why), and has become synonymous with vintage design. It still gets used today, of course, but you can achieve some remarkably fun and weird effects with a fisheye lens. Just look at the Jimi Hendrix Experience's Are You Experienced? album cover. Colorful, weird, psychedelic.
Observe Modern Day Pop Culture
Every so often (more often than not), we'll see pop stars or movie stars pull out something from their long-deceased great-great-great-great-grandfather or grandmother's closet and don it in public. Okay, it's probably not that old.
Just look at Christina Aguilera's "Candyman" video, Outkast's "Hey Ya", Weezer's "Buddy Holly", or the Beastie Boy's "Sabotage" video. Like the Beastie Boys, sometimes it's possible to make a particular era cool again (they did the "Sabotage" video when people still dreaded the 70s). You need to have an eye for it, but there is always a timeless element to vintage style, whether in the design or in the multimedia world.
Take A Cue From Retro Gaming
Recently, we have seen the resurgence of retro style gaming. Various independent (and even mainstream) companies have been developing and releasing 8-bit or 16-bit style platformer, shooter, beat 'em up or action games.
Though gamified merch isn't going to work for everyone, there are definitely a lot of possibilities here. You could have a T-shirt with an 8-bit version of yourself on the front and a funny Engrish slogan on the back ("Well, let's go for a kill time"). You could have an 8-bit style plush toy. You could have buttons with 16-bit caricatures on them.
Again, while this may not work for everyone, there is definitely a demographic out there for it. You ever heard of those energy drink guzzling gamers? Yeah, them.
What ridiculous vintage items do you still have in your closet? What other retro trends have you noticed? Leave a comment below and keep us in the loop!
Cover image by Voices of East Anglia