Between celeb controversies over vintage tees and rich people emptying their pockets for Puff Daddy shirts, America’s t-shirt culture is thriving. But t-shirt culture is worldwide, and, if Instagram’s @good_vietnam_shirts is any indication, collectors would do well to browse the shops of Vietnam.
Operated by writer John Mannheimer, who moved from California to Hanoi, the account catalogs the mistranslations, confused cultural references, and bootleg aesthetics he finds on t-shirts in Vietnamese stores. The bulk of the tees he shares depict an American phrase with an off-putting grammatical error—“We Life in A Society,” reads one such shirt. Others adopt snippets from magazines as inspiration, like a shirt that pairs Mickey Mouse with a quote from the March 2018 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine. Sure, why not?
But the best tees on @good_vietnam_shirts are the ones without a clear source of inspiration, the ones that evoke an inside joke that’s been mangled into meaninglessness. One example: A shirt pairing a pig wearing reindeer ears with “The Welsh teenager who wrotea hit fiLm.” A tee reading “MARK: Haven’t seen you for one week,” meanwhile, evokes the poetic sorrow of “Baby shoes for sale, never worn.” One of the more disturbing tees is printed with teddy bears and “Life is Designed to Kick Your Best Friends Forever.”
Of course, it’s this comically warped interpretation of American culture that makes the shirts so appealing. As such, Good Vietnam Shirts went ahead and launched their own line of tees inspired by the bootleg Vietnamese designs—with quips like “Communism is 4 Girls” and “Don’t Cry Because It’s Over, Cry Because It Happened.” Who could blame them for wanting more of a good thing?
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