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What makes ‘retro’ retro?

August 15, 2012 | Scott

It’s tricky to pin down an outright definition of retro, and we at Balcony would never be so arrogant as to say that ‘retro is whatever we say it is’. We’re aware though that retro is a highly subjective concept – it’s often literally in the eye of the beholder. But as retro aficionados, we reckon we owe it to you guys to spin out what we think retro is, and how you can look out for it. It’ll hopefully also help you spot people who think they’re retro, but they’re not. And people who don’t know they’re retro but they are. And people who are retro by accident.

The Philosophy of Retro Clothing

First, lets just hammer out what retro actually is, and the philosophy behind retro clothing (if there is one), and then we’ll talk about why it’s retro. Retro clothes can be loosely defined as any clothing which takes as its inspiration from the fashions and trends of a slightly earlier time. Not too early though. You wouldn’t put on a huge powdered wig and dress like a regency dandy, and describe your style as ‘retro’. No, you’d call that ‘period’ or something, and we don’t know much about that. In a very broad nutshell, retro clothing is any clothing which is influenced by the designs of the years between 1960 and 1999, though at Balcony we’re primarily into the twenty years between ’70 and ’90-ish. (That doesn’t mean we’re old-fashioned though; we’re not going to start working a three day week and fighting at football matches, and tearing down in walls in Berlin. We’re Modern Lovers, and don’t you forget it. Look, we’ve got a website and everything. Buck Rogers…)

Why? It’s a pretty simple question. Why do we think the fashions of the 70s, 80s and 90s are superior to more modern ones? The short answer is, we don’t. Not really really. We appreciate modern fashion design as much as the next innovative and creative clothing manufacturer. But have you ever longed to travel back in time with the knowledge you have now? The retro thing sort of allows you to that, on a small scale, and you look cool at the same time. Which is a plus. Additionally, the 70s and 80s produced clothing which used simple, big, bold lettering, and striking primary colours. The simplicity of these designs and the strong colours make them attractive, full of character, and – dare we say it – fun.

Getting Deep

But there’s more to it than the simple, uncomplicated pleasure we derive from the striking designs. (Be warned; this might get a bit deep so if you have a crash helmet or anything handy, now’s the time to don it. Deep breath, here we go…) The widespread resurgence of retro is symptomatic of a larger malady, reflecting a broad rejection of contemporary trends, which are inherently transitory in nature, and ultimately a little devoid of significant meaning. The early 21st century has so far been one of extreme turmoil, and we find ourselves in the most dangerous times in the history of humanity. It’s both exciting and terrifying in equal exhilarating measures. Consistently we’re let down by people we’re told to trust, by people who have profound influence over our lives. There’s growing cynicism towards scientific and medical advancement, the mistrust of politicians is ubiquitous, and opposition to war and bloodshed by the people is swept aside without regard by decadent Western governments with uncontrollable power and a self-imposed virtual carte-blanche to act without accountability. Even the mass media, which is supposed to fight for us, simply propagate the falsehoods peddled by the financial institutions that pay their wages.

So it’s natural that some of us clamour for the security of the recent past. Someone quite clever once said that the world had no idea where it was headed, but it was determined to set a landspeed record getting there. We think it’s time to apply the brakes.

(If you put a helmet on, you can take it off now. We’re done with the deep stuff. Congratulations, you survived.)

So what Makes ‘retro’ retro?

So we’ve established the subconscious motives behind retro, sort of, now we can address the thorny issue of categorisation. What defines our retro clothing, especially our T-shirts? Well, retro T-shirts are retro if they have any, or a combination, of the following points:

  • Tight-Fitting – our T-shirts are generally produced in two cuts: Regular cut and Vintage cut. The Vintage cut T-shirts are tighter than the Regular cut T-shirts, and their tightness is the key to their retroness. And short sleeves too, well above the elbow. Think an early Trevor Brooking playing for West Ham, if you want an image of the shape.
  • Washed Out Colours – a T-shirt doesn’t necessarily need to be faded or washed out to be considered retro, but it helps in some instances. It’s a bit like antiquing new furniture to make it look older than it is.
  • Has a Sense of Self-Awareness – retro T-shirts need a sense of irony about them, just to let people know that you can in fact afford new clothes, and you haven’t actually just dusted off your old man’s wardrobe. We have to draw the line with the irony somewhere though; we don’t want to fall into that post-modern trap. Because we’re not post-modern. We’re pre-modern.
  • Comfortable – it should go without saying that we want our retro T-shirts to be comfortable to wear. We’ve tried so hard to make our clothes feel nice that it’s become one of their defining features.

There are other factors. To be considered for our range of retro clothes, a design idea needs to make us smile. Every time you wake up and get dressed on the morning, we reckon you’re advertising yourself in some respect to the world. Your choice of clothing says a lot about you, so it won’t do any harm if you look like you care about the way you dress, will it? Well, we don’t think it will…

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