Photo by James BunoanI think people get the wrong idea about the '60s, that maybe people were less materialistic back then. Hey, we wanted in the '60s. I wanted. It was just a less discerning, less specific kind of want. I wanted a BB gun. I wanted a mini-bike and a go-kart. But I wanted the item, not the name on the item. As Kathleen Schaaf, owner of landmark vintage boutique Meow puts it: "We weren't the label whores kids are today."
Indeed, there were only three brands that I actually knew anything about: Levi's (jeans), Schwinn (bikes) and Hang Ten (T-shirts); these were the only things that I actually yearned for by name—these and Julie Newmar.
I eventually got the Levi's—tortured crotch—and the Schwinn—stolen off porch—but never, ever got a whiff of a Hang Ten shirt. So it's both exciting and nauseating to see Kathleen wading knee-deep through piles of Hang Ten shirts she's brought out from the back. There must be 20 or 30 of the beauties just laying there, a combed-cotton cornucopia of thick- and thin-striped tees along with funky solids, all replete with the crucial 10-toed logo.
"Wow," I say to Kathleen.
"I know," Kathleen says to me. Meow, located on funky Fourth Street in Long Beach, is a vintage destination spot, and people come and call from all over—Kathleen supplies vintage clothes for numerous TV shows and movies including That '70s Show and the recently released Starsky and Hutch. A lot of her customers are young people looking to make a connection with another era, but these aren't the people who buy the Hang Ten shirts at about 25 bucks a pop.
"No, to be honest, most of the interest I get is from obsessed guys like yourself in their 40s who couldn't get them growing up," Kathleen says.
We get them at vintage stores, and there's always a dozen or so for sale on eBay. Funny thing is, doing this story, I found out that Hang Ten actually still exists and still sells shirts at a selected few stores—none in Orange County. The company website says Hang Ten actually started with board shorts in 1962 (who knew?) and didn't make T-shirts until 1965. It also says the shirts were made of the finest quality material, but I can't recall anyone ever saying they wanted a Hang Ten because of the way they were made.
I'm not exactly sure why the shirts became Grail-like to me, but when one of my friends at school, Dave Domenici, told me he had not one Hang Ten but "four or five," that might have set the hook. I guess Hang Ten spoke to us about cool guys—surfers—who were a mysterious lot back then, pretty much synonymous with hippies, who were pretty much synonymous with stoners and who you pretty much never saw except on Dragnet and the evening news.
Now, standing here, looking down at the Hang Ten booty at my feet, it's almost too easy. Almost. I realize what others have before me: that because adult men in the '60s didn't wear T-shirts—unless it was to mow the lawn, and then they wore the plain-white variety—most of the vintage Hang Tens available are available in kids sizes.
That by the time we're big enough to buy them, we're too big to wear them.