Your ‘90s t-shirts are now 'vintage,' and other takeaways from ThriftCon LA

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Vintage t-shirts on sale at ThriftCon LA. Photo by Tyler Boudreaux/KCRW

Everything old is new again, and that’s literally the case with used clothing, a hot look among LA fashionistas right now. Even Vogue predicted for this year, “The Future of Fashion Is Circular: Why the 2020s Will Be About Making New Clothes Out of Old Ones.” 

So what’s fueling the taste for old clothes? And what qualifies as “vintage”? No, it’s not those nipped-waisted frocks worn by the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

KCRW’s Tyler Boudreaux is our resident fashionista and thrifting fanatic. She went to ThriftCon LA, a trade show for buyers and sellers of used clothes that recently took place at the LA Convention Center, and came back with these seven takeaways:

A TV tower showing distorted cartoons served as an art centerpiece at the nostalgia-fueled ThriftCon LA. Photo by Tyler Boudreaux/KCRW 

1. Mixing and matching styles is in.

Amanda Adam, owner of Zig Zag Goods, described her style as “contemporary clown wear for the everyday freak.” 

“We try to make it as colorful and stand-outish as possible. So like long-sleeve puffy sleeves mixed with denim and grunge, like more of a refined grunge feel, with a color spin. So like maybe a clown on acid, but from Seattle,” Adam said.

(Note that puffy sleeves were everywhere at the Golden Globes.)

2. Vintage means 1990s. 

There were a lot of ‘90s vintage T-shirts that had cartoons on it, like Tweety Bird or Nickelodeon characters. It’s appealing to shoppers who grew up in the 90s and are nostalgic for that time period.

3. Sportswear will be big in 2020. 

Tyler says she saw a lot of vintage Lakers jerseys and snapbacks, a type of hat with an adjustable snap in the back popular in the ‘90s. Repping your team has always been popular, but as thrifting and urban streetwear become closer in style, she thinks we’ll see rare sports merchandise and throwback jerseys make its way more into the mainstream.

4. Thrifting is good for the planet. 

Fast fashion is terrible for the environment. Making clothes is energy and resource intensive, and clothes that aren’t made to last are clogging up landfills.

“I think people are just starting to think about the sustainable ways that they can help reduce the harm on the earth. And one of the ways is through thrifting,” Tyler said.

Vintage outfits for sale at American Rebel on Melrose Ave. Photo by Tyler Boudreaux/KCRW 

5. Used does not mean cheap.

There are two ends of the thrifting spectrum. On the one hand, you have yard sales, Goodwill, consignment stores, “buy by the pound” stores, etc. that are cheaper but require more of a hunt since you have to sift through larger quantities, and the condition of the clothing varies widely.

On the other hand are curated boutiques, both online and in-person, and high-end flea markets. These can be pricy but are usually in very good condition and the trending styles and designs are already selected.

At ThriftCon LA, Tyler said, the prices were much higher than she expected. “Vintage t shirts were going up to $100, $200, $300. I think a lot of people were disappointed at that. You couldn't really make a deal with the vendor because they were just like, ‘hey, this is going for $300 on eBay, and this is a one-of-a-kind rare piece. You're not going to find it anywhere else.’” 

6. People are looking for clothes that last.

“One of the reasons people told me why they were at ThriftCon was to look for quality items. A lot of the clothes that were made back in the day in the ‘90s, ‘80s, were of a better quality than they are nowadays. So you can get a T-shirt that was made in ‘92 and it looks brand new, whereas the t-shirts now have thin, synthetic fabrics in it might only last a couple years,” Tyler said.

7. Baggy looks are in.

Baggy cargo pants, oversized sweatshirts and big jackets were everywhere at ThriftCon LA. Many women love borrowing their boyfriend’s clothes or their brother’s baggy jeans because they’re warmer and more comfortable. This new direction towards looser-fitting clothes might also be a rejection of feminine standards and a rebellion against the male gaze, saying women can dress comfortably and look just as good.

“We used to wear tight skinny jeans and tight dresses and tight skirts. And now I think people just want to be free and hang and not be so tight on your skin all the time,” Tyler said, pointing to popular singer Billie Eilish’s baggy outfits.