If you’re addicted to authentic vintage t shirts, you’ve surely beheld the way the almighty force majeure of business and promotion is able to kink and mutate our very lexicon. Even though this presumably won’t make a difference when picking between a beef jerky featuring an “enchanting new flavor” and one with an “awesome new taste,” a paltry switch in expression could bring about a whale of a difference when adding to your vintage t-shirt collection. Thankfully, identifying the minor discrepancy between two commonplace words might teach you to avoid making a dreadfully humongous but quite standard blunder.

The term “vintage,” for instance, indicates something that was literally produced in the past, such as a cheese of a particular vintage. Or a vintage 1949 Satchel Paige baseball card. Or even those Guns N Roses t shirts that have been sitting in your dresser drawer since the 80s.

“Retro,” by contrast, is defined as a product that is completed newly but is a nod to a previous trend. Retro is more like a remake or imitation of something vintage, but is not actually vintage itself. Newly completed ripped jeans are retro. Side ponytails are retro. Neon-colored scrunchy socks are retro. Regrettable, but retro.

To put it even more simply, if you hit a thrift shop and get some 80s tees that have been pre-owned, those are vintage. If you walk to Hot Topic and plunk down your hard-earned dough for a new black t shirt with Beetlejuice on it, that’s retro.

Straightforward, right? So how come all this confusion? Well, a portion of the issue is that, to tons of kids, “vintage” and “retro” are nothing but dual strains of “old.” Is that vintage Star Wars tee awesome because the shirt is antique, or because the film is old? Are those vintage tees  vintage music shirts sweet because they were bought at the live music venue, or because the groups are retro fashionable? A youngster oftentimes doesn’t agonize about it and recognizes no discrimination between the two.

A second part of the issue is industry. Retro shirts are the latest fad at this moment. The labels and images of kitschy properties of earlier times have turned immensely familiar all over again. In fact, they’ve grown to be so stylish that entire populations of t-shirt designers have halted the practice of merely utilizing a Thundercats, A&W Root Beer, or Nirvana logo, and instead started to produce the tees in a way that gives the impression of them being long used, well-loved, and absolutely distressed. The effect is retro tees that look like honest-to-god vintage tee shirts but really aren’t.

So, what’s an unassuming worshipper of vintage shirts to do? Well, you should be confident you grasp the difference between the words “vintage” and “retro.” You can make sure to analyze product details meticulously, staying aware of choices of words like “licensed tees” (which would express that the green light to make use of the style, figures, and/or ideas was purchased but the tee itself was newly fabricated). And, when in doubt, you should always check with the tshirt shop and inquire honestly about whether their t-shirts are simply retro or in fact vintage.

Naturally, if you’re not a hobbyist or an enthusiast, maybe no part of this matters to you. Who, besides a collector, honestly clamors to score a 26-year old t-shirt? I mean, unlike a vintage bookcase, most things aren’t seriously devised to be fit 20 years later. Especially clothes. And, even more particularly, low-priced shirts. Might be a retro t-shirt seriously is the finest of both worlds.

Or perhaps I’m merely feeling wistful. Some bit part of me wishes the expression “vintage” would be purely and strictly applied to my journeys to buy old fantasy novels and 80s tshirts, rather than used to drive on the “everything oldish-looking is cool” fad. I have a suspicion I’m just old.

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