Sunday, September 16, 2012

What I did (or didn't do) on my summer vacation...and the t-shirt that proves it!

Did anyone actually have this essay assignment when they went back to school in the fall? I feel like it's the cliché school scene shown in random movies/tv shows and I’ve been racking my brain to remember if I ever had to recount how I'd spent my summer with an essay or even a diorama, and I don’t think it happened.  (And making a diorama from the summer me and my brother watched the Star Wars trilogy, literally Every. Single. Day. and fought over the last slice of Ellio’s frozen pizza could have been pretty amazing.) 

Vintage Adoption Agency Ellio's Pizza Diorama
Nothing says 'most memorable/bizarre/unsupervised summer ever!' like Star Wars and Ellio's frozen pizza.

The assignment that always kicked off my school year was summer reading.  I remember waiting until the last minute and trying to read all of the required books on the four-hour drive home from the beach.  We’d always go to Virginia Beach at the end of the summer and I always felt compelled to bring back a million souvenirs.  Without the keychains, postcards, t-shirts, cup cozies, stuffed animals and sea-shell figurines tackily emblazoned with “Virginia Beach, Virginia” to serve as evidence that I had been there, I feared the other kids would think I made the whole vacation up.

For more avid social media users (not me), I imagine it’s similar to when someone says they did something really awesome, but they don’t have any proof: if it’s not documented in a photo album on Facebook, if no one tweeted a funny observation about it, if there’s no blogger recap…did it even happen?  Does it matter?

VAA Vintage Adoption Agency Summer Vacation Memories Favorite Souvenir
These keychains were one of my favorite souvenirs!

My parents didn’t let me BUY ALL THE SOUVENIRS!! so I had to manage with one or two inexpensive but carefully chosen articles to represent the amazingness of my vacation.  Seashells from the beach would not suffice.  My souvenir short-list always included a t-shirt.  I imagined I would wear it and classmates would gather around me on the playground at recess.  They’d comment on the glittery seahorses and dolphins, envy the airbrushed artistry that composed the landscape, read the name of such an exotic locale far beyond our little town and ask if I’d really been there.  And I could say of course I had been there, because how else could I have gotten this t-shirt?  An awesome t-shirt was indisputable proof of an awesome summer vacation, right?

Random destination t-shirts are probably the biggest category of t-shirts I come across at thrift stores,  followed by t-shirts commemorating random events and t-shirts from random schools and companies.  When I worked at a thrift store, I noticed they rarely sold unless someone had been seeking something specific.  If they did sell, it was because of the subject: "I grew up in San Francisco!  What are the odds of finding a San Francisco shirt on the east coast?!"  Or the color: "My kid's little league team color is orange and I want to show my support so I'll just wear this shirt inside out..."  Yes, lots of people would actually explain to me why they were buying the things they bought.  Sometimes it was completely unnecessary:

Vintage Adoption Agency Rasta Explains T-shirt Selection
Yeah, mon.  No shit.

All the random t-shirts sold best when they started to crowd the racks and were put on clearance for something like 5 for a dollar.  That's when the painters that worked around the corner would stock up.  While it was always fun to see a customer wearing something they had bought from our thrift store, my favorite 'model' was when my manager told me she had seen one of our regular customers; a Hispanic man, probably in his thirties or forties, who didn't speak very much English, and was among the aforementioned painters, walking down the street wearing a t-shirt that read 'I danced my butt off at Ally's Bat Mitzvah!' across the back.  While it's ENTIRELY possible he was a guest at Ally's Jewish coming of age festivities, it's more likely he bought it from us.  And didn't care.  (Or maybe he did care and it's the kind of aggressive irony only detected on the highest hipster frequencies...)

Vintage Adoption Agency Bat Mitzvah Crasher
¿Cómo se dice Mazal Tov en  Español?

I have my own collection of random t-shirts.  It's not completely out of control but, at one point, I did possess a t-shirt from every school I ever went to, every vacation I went on, every foreign Starbucks I ordered the same drink from, every extracurricular club I was a part of (I even won a t-shirt design contest for one club) and every free promotional t-shirt available to me: 'No, I don't listen to that radio station....pretty sure I still need that shirt...because it's free!' and 'Why, yes, I am in college...pretty sure I need a shirt that doesn't specify which one...oh, it's from Animal House?  Never heard of it...You want me to complete a brief survey about my credit card spending before you give me the shirt?  Luckily for you, that is a hoop I will gladly jump through...'

But I've reined it in. Earlier this year, while at a shopping mall with a friend, there was a smartphone promotion with artists drawing caricatures of people using the smartphone's program and then they would screenprint your portrait onto a t-shirt...for FREE!  If ever there was a free t-shirt to wait in line for, this was it.  And I RESISTED!

Some of my t-shirts are actually relevant to places I've been and things I've done.  But others, particularly the vintage ones, just appeal to me because they are perfectly worn-in and made of that super soft seventies blend of polyester and cotton.  And occasionally, when I wear one, someone will make a comment/assumption and ask me about it.  At that point I have to confess that I just like the color, or the design, or the threadbare softness of it (no more glittering seahorses for me) and usually I'll stammer something vaguely apologetic for being misleading.

It's occurred to me that when you wear a screenprinted shirt, you're literally wearing that image (or text or logo) across your chest and your a sense, every shirt you wear could (should?) be interpreted as something you 'heart' or love.

My most memorable t-shirt-instigated interrogation happened when I was wearing a shirt featuring a NFL player as a kitchen appliance (refrigerator) while pumping gas.  I heard a guy's voice bellow from the adjacent gas pump: "Whoa, whoa!  That shirt is OLD SCHOOL!  Whatchu know 'bout that, honey?" (Answer: Nothing.)  Apparently, William 'the Fridge' Perry was quite the football star.  He even has this jam dedicated to him and his own brand of barbecue sauce.

VAA Vintage Adoption Agency T-shirt Interrogation
I like my Fridge shirt because it's my favorite color (navy blue), insanely soft, and even reversible! I don't like football.

I've noticed Beatles song lyrics on shirts for sale at places like Forever 21 and dELiA*s and, as a Beatles fan (not extreme, but I do have a Beatles t-shirt, which I bought from the Beatles museum in Liverpool), I catch myself wishing there was some kind of IQ test for wearers.  As in, they should be able to name the song title that the lyrics on the shirt reference.  ('What do you mean you didn't realize 'All You Need is Love' was a Beatles song?!' *Pulls out hair*)

A few years ago, I saw a Run DMC shirt in the kid's section at H&M.  If I saw a kid wearing a Run DMC shirt, I'd probably think it was cute.  And I'd also probably be tempted to say "Whoa, whoa! That shirt is OLD SCHOOL!  Whatchu know 'bout that, honey?"

Vintage Adoption Agency T-shirt Interrogation
T-shirt Wearer IQ Test FAIL.

My parents always say I L-O-V-E-D Prince when I was little and would sing along to all of his songs on the radio.  When I was a little older, I saw part of Purple Rain and went into denial about the whole thing.  These days, I like Prince.  And I L-O-V-E my thrifted Prince t-shirt.  Favorite Prince song? Batdance.

VAA Vintage Adoption Agency Prince Purple Rain T-shirt
Flowers! For me? Oh Prince, you shouldn't have...

I'm not ready to part with my Prince concert shirt, but all of the vintage destination shirts featured this week are souvenirs from thrift stores I've been to, none of them anywhere near the place advertised on the shirt.  I think the colors and graphics are great and they're already super soft and worn-in.  Maybe you can wear them and represent a place you're from or have actually been or you can at least look cool and be comfortable during your inevitable t-shirt interrogation: because, really, whatchu know bout that, honey?  

Prices for t-shirts will be listed in USD.  Shipping is $6 and Paypal is the only accepted form of payment.  If you think you can provide a good home for these items, read over this and send me an e-mail at

Oh, snap! We got some tote bags coming too!

All of the destination shirts and bags featured on the blog (plus a few that aren't) can also be found in the Vintage Adoption Agency Etsy shop!

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