It’s hard to say vintage style t-shirts are making a comeback since the design style has never really gone away. Trends come and go but none has stood the test of time quite like vintage styling along with the distressed look. We happily buy expensive jeans with tears and distress already added because it’s the look we’re after; relaxed and unassuming yet fashionable.

Why is the vintage look so appealing?

Blame on the hippies in the 60’s. Prior to that era, wearing used, poor looking clothing was not something people aspired to do. Those that survived the turmoil of the Great Depression were not keen to continue living the Spartan lifestyle that was forced upon them during harder times. People wearing worn or used clothing were deemed tragic because it meant they could not afford to dress in new apparel.

However, the mindset of hippies in the 60’s was to be unusual and original. This meant combing the secondhand stores and combining styles from different era’s to create a wholly unique look. Rejecting the modern aesthetic, they looked for throwbacks from bygone days particularly Edwardian fashion.

As with most trends, the popularity of being different made the accessibility of true vintage pieces increasingly scarce and it was necessary for niche apparel makers to make new clothes look old and period correct. This is known as “repro” fashion and it’s the focus of this tutorial.

Defining vintage or retro is typically done by either the condition of the garment or the design. It can also be defined by the color of the garment that the design is printed on. A lot of manufactures identify these colors as “heather” or simply “vintage.”

Adjusting the fiber’s texture is a big part of the vintage movement. To make the look realistic, you can either buy the repro version or do it yourself with some common household tools like sandpaper, scissors and common ingredients like salt and bleach. Here is video that details how to achieve the look on any t-shirt:

Colors in a vintage or retro palette will range from dark browns, oranges, tangerines, soft to electric blues, and mellow reds. Here are some examples of retro color palettes in some of the most desirable eras:

Fifties Color Palette

fifties palette

Sixties Color Palette

sixties palette

Seventies Color Palette

seventies palette

Vintage shirt styles include the Ringer tee, the baseball tee, the crop top, and of course the basic tee. For women only, there’s the spaghetti strap tank top.

ringer tee
baseball tee
crop top
spaghetti strap

There are certain design styles that are more authentic to the vintage look like variegated stripes. Here are a few examples of vintage graphic tees designs:

graphic tee designs

Vintage style fonts are an important aspect to incorporate if you’re intent is to design a shirt that remains true to the era. Here are some examples available for use in our custom tee shirt design studio:

vintage fonts

And additional retro and vintage style font resources if you’re making your t-shirt design in a program like Photoshop, Illustrator, or Corel Draw. Be sure to check terms of use on these, some are free for personal use only, so if you intend to sell your design, look for commercial use approved.

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Retro Vectors

And finally here are some of our very own designs for repro wear:

fifties design
sixties design
seventies design

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