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The history of retro

August 15, 2012 | Scott

Our ability to create really funny T-shirts with gorgeous retro styling isn’t innate; we at Balcony weren’t born with the ability to build things of beauty. It takes practice to make cool T-shirts, it takes dedication and hard work and research. During the course of our studies into the history of design, we stumbled over a few forgotten – or perhaps, concealed – facts, and we’d like to share them with you. We’d like to share them with you because we think it might help you be a little more creative, and to understand the concept behind what we do a little better. We don’t hold a monopoly over retro T-shirts; everyone can have a crack it at – including you. And since knowledge is power, the more you know, the stronger you’ll be.

Retro T-Shirts

So as you probably know, we decided there aren’t enough retro T-shirts in the world, and we decided to do something about it. But first we had to find out a little about where retro came from and why. So we started digging. We started rummaging around in the detritus of time, like pigs searching for the truffles of truth in the forest of history. And by gum, we found those truffles. It turns out that the term ‘retro’ is a contraction from ‘retrograde’. Retrograde as a word has been in circulation in English since at least 1392, when it was coined to describe the apparently ‘backward’ motion of the planets (from Latin ‘retrogradi’; from retro- “backward” + gradi “to go, step”) by early-ish a stronomers. As their observations of the planets’ movements gained more and more currency, so did the word retrograde, and by 1530 the word was being used by the intellectual elite to refer to anything with a trend towards previous times – anything moving backwards – and the foundation for Balcony and our retro T-shirts was laid.

The foundation was laid, but it would be another 430 years before the word ‘retro’ would become a word in its own right. Around 1968, fashions in Paris began drawing their influence from the styles and designs first championed by Eva ‘Evita’ Peron, that woman who looked Madonna before Madonna was even famous. The French innovatively termed these fashions ‘retro’ in around 1973. The word was so apt and it filled such a prominent hole that the word was taken up into English and other European languages, and today we find it applied to all sorts of weird and wonderful things. Like T-shirts. Which definitely weren’t inspired by Eva Peron.

A History of Modern Retro

That’s all well and good, but trying to nail down the modern history of retro (or is it the history of modern retro? Err… we’ve confused ourselves now) is a little trickier. We don’t know exactly when the first retro T-shirt was made, or the first modern piece of clothing which resembled something older, and we suspect that there was no such ‘first’. We think that in the early years of this millennium there was a sort of organic growth of retro clothes. Balcony opened its doors in 2003 – which is surely a landmark in the history of retro clothing – and to this day we champion the demythologised (according to the theorist Jean Baudrillard) fashions of the recent past.

Our tagline at Balcony Shirts is “Retro Attire for The Modern Lover” which tries – in the simplest way – to set out our stall as a shop that looks to (but is not completely obsessed by) the past. We like to nick a bit here and there and add a touch of something new… and it gives us nice little opportunity to plug The Modern Lovers, which can never be an entirely bad thing

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