Vintage Finds: Tourist Tees + Missed Connections at The Closet

blogger karlie baker united states of vintage tshirt


Do any of you have vintage items that have endured years or decades with you? Such is the case with this t-shirt. We are both babies of the 80s.

In high school, I had two regular thrift stops: the Salvation Army a few blocks' from my mom's workplace (may it forever R.I.P.) and The Closet (2026 Main St., Princeton, Ill). The Closet offers the most magnificent deal: basket days each Friday and Saturday where you can fill a hand-held grocery shopping basket with any clothing, accessories and shoes that fit for just $5. (If your basket overfloweth, the penalty is only $1 extra.)

Imagine how very stoked I was about this deal as a freshman with no income save allowance from house chores. My first few visits there, I found some real gems: cowboy boots, an Adidas running suit, a red sweatshirt with Hawaii's shoreline emblazoned across the chest. But no Closet shopping trip made such an impression as the one where I found my Washington, D.C. t-shirt.

I remember the day so well--not because I found a purple-sleeved baseball tee with one of the coolest, loopy little fonts I'd ever seen, which is pretty much like finding a very specific piece of hay in a haystack--but because I briefly fell in love with Vintage Vans Boy.

I was already feeling high from my shopping finds. My grandma was handing me our bags when he walked in. He had dark, curly hair, a soft-looking t-shirt with a funny graphic I no longer remember, and a worn pair of American flag Vans on his feet. This is no exaggeration--I fell in love for that moment. High school version Karlie dreamed of a boy who would help her finger through vinyl at the thrift store, take her to the drive-in theater, wear a fun graphic print shirt underneath his prom tux, and maybe play an instrument in a local band. I was never oblivious to how tall an order that was, so to see a boy who perhaps embodied some of those qualities, and never having been in actual love, I declared myself in love. I smiled at him. He smiled at me. He and his mother continued to walk toward the men's section at the back of the store, and that was it.

This sounds like the teenager version of a Craigslist missed connection, right? It totally was. 

I'd love to say not talking to this dreamy guy was an isolated experience, but it wasn't. I was very bad at "getting guys" in school, even when I discounted my ridiculous boyfriend wish list. I was not forward. I did not compete with other girls. I was a wuss.

That final thought was not lost on me on our walk out to the van, and feeling like a spineless slug nearly deflated all the glory from my thrift scores. So I decided to think of it a different way. Maybe I did strike out on an opportunity to meet a cool dude, but the sighting gave me a hope that the kind of guys I wanted really existed out there. And despite the love life loss, the day was a shopping win. I knew I would keep the Washington, D.C. for many years to come.

I also realized I was lucky in that find--I almost didn't walk out with the shirt. It didn't catch my eye until after my sweep of the store, when the ladies at the counter had already rung up our purchases and were bagging them. I'd easily wrangled up $6 worth of items, but I saw those pale purple sleeves and that cool cursive and it had to be mine. I went and grabbed it from the rack and pleaded with the ladies, offering to pay for it as a separate item. The ladies allowed me to add it to my original purchase at no charge, and a true connection was made that day. I may have been spineless around boys, but at least I knew my inner warrior would never fail to fight for beautiful vintage.

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