With long blonde hair, quick wit and casual style, Detroit-based Erin Norton resembles PJ Franklin, the tomboy-ish character from the TBS series “My Boys.” So it makes sense that a recent episode featured PJ sporting a top from Retro Rags, Norton’s collection of modern vintage tees emblazoned with historical bars, restaurants and clubs.
The idea came three years ago after a happy-hour conversation with fellow school teachers. Norton was intrigued by their tales of old bars during the Detroit heyday. The next day she went to the library to research the defunct hangouts, and the idea sparked.
“I thought it would be great to commemorate these places,” Norton says. “Tons of t-shirts were coming out, and I knew that those images would be better than anything else out there.” After hitting the books for former hotspot info, she churned out a few shirts featuring old Detroit blues and jazz clubs. The response was stellar, and she quickly added New York, L.A. and Chicago to her repertoire. Her singled-out Second City joints? Tequila Mockingbird, Gold Star Sardine Bar, Red Wine Room, Bucket of Blood, Gas Light Corner Bar and Kerouac Jack’s.
Norton’s designs are getting her attention from everyone from teenagers to grandmothers. “Young people love the fit and the graphics,” Norton says, “but it strikes a chord with older people, too, as these are places they or their parents used to go.” Despite offers from major chain restaurants to produce tees, Norton remains committed to preserving history of both cities and venues. Each city has its own unique logo (Chicago’s is a guitar) and each shirt comes with a large tag, which tells establishment history.
Seeing your designs in a shop is one thing, but it’s another to see them on television. Yet it hardly fazed Norton, who remains excited about every aspect of her recent success. “Yeah, it was really exciting,” she says of spotting her tee on TBS. “But I get excited seeing a person wearing one on the street, or when someone sees a shirt and gets excited because their dad used to go there. That’s the coolest thing.” (Molly Each)
Find Norton’s tees at www.retroragscollection.com.