Star Wars fans express their love for the franchise in numerous ways, including by dressing in themed apparel and accessories. From T-shirts to leggings, there are a lot of options out there for fans to wear to show their passion. Since A New Hope was released in 1977 fans have been expressing their fandom in this way, though the items offered back then were a bit different from the variety available today. These early pieces of Star Wars clothing have not been forgotten however, but instead live on in the collections of Star Wars collectors who seek out these vintage items.
Gus Lopez has been collecting since 1977 when he started buying Star Wars products as a kid. He saved everything from then and began seriously collecting in the early '90s. In 1994 he created The Star Wars Collectors Archive, which features items from Star Wars collections around the world. According to Lopez, vintage apparel is not a common area of Star Wars collecting though people will specialize in areas of it. In Lopez's collection for example, a lot of his vintage apparel consists of cast and crew items. These are jackets, caps, and other pieces that were made for those who worked on the films.
"It's a bit more esoteric area of collecting. A lot are after the posters, action figures, coins, and the very major visible things. Apparel items are not the mainstream in collecting, but some people go after pockets of it like shoes, Underoos, or T-shirts so some people do that and there are a reasonable number of collectors of cast and crew items," Lopez told Boing Boing.
Considering the sheer amount of apparel that has been produced since A New Hope, it makes sense why some collectors might choose to specialize in an area within Star Wars apparel rather than aim to collect every piece. The Star Wars Collectors Archive has listed around 2,667 apparel items, 509 pieces of jewelry, and 581 cast and crew items. Within the apparel section there are over 1,000 shirts alone included with the majority comprising of T-shirts.
In addition to certain collectors specializing in an area of Star Wars apparel, some will go after items displaying a specific character according to collector Duncan Jenkins. Jenkins also began collecting after seeing the original Star Wars and some of his first items were T-shirts with Star Wars iron-ons. He has co-authored books on the subject with Lopez such as Gus and Duncan's Comprehensive Guide to Star Wars Collectibles and serves on the board of directors for Rancho Obi-Wan, a museum which houses the world's largest Star Wars memorabilia collection. Jenkins has found that few focus solely on collecting just vintage apparel.
"I would say that a lot of people who are character focused collectors will seek out the items that apply to that character across all the ranges and that will include the apparel so if they really like Wicket then they'll go after the Wicket T-shirts and different pieces of apparel that have come with Wicket on them," Jenkins said. "But as far as somebody who's just exclusively vintage apparel collecting that's very, very rare."
Vintage apparel includes many different types of items, but it still differs from the variety found by fans now.
"Today you can get pretty much any kind of clothing that you would like, particularly for adults and women and girls. It was almost exclusively just boys clothing at the beginning. The exceptions to that would be things like the cast and crew items that the people who worked on the films had. Those were obviously done in adult sizes and a few other little things like the infamous Underoos were available for both boys and girls, but now they've done those in adult sizes as well this year so that's kind of fun," Jenkins told Boing Boing.
According to collector Todd Chamberlain, some of the items marketed to women and girls at that time are hard for collectors to find. You might see fewer nightgowns than pajamas for example. Chamberlain has been collecting since Star Wars came out as well and has continuously been interested in buying and collecting Star Wars items ever since.
Jenkins, who presented a panel with Chamberlain titled "Wearable Fandom: Collecting Vintage Star Wars Clothing" at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim this April, said that at the start some of the early licensees created things like belts and belt buckles.
"Then Factors, which is famous for doing a lot of posters and iron-ons, did the iron-ons for Star Wars and then from there it just kind of branched out. There was a line of jewelry that was available sub-licensed through Weingeroff which was from Factors but they did everything from barrettes to earrings, necklaces, rings, those kinds of pieces of jewelry but by the time Return of the Jedi came out they had expanded considerably into exercise clothing, suspenders, Underoos, socks, hats, you name it they had done quite a few different pieces of Star Wars clothing by that time," he said.
According to Chamberlain, themed shoes also appeared early from companies like Clarks along with some jackets made by Bright Red Group and overalls created by Liberty Trousers. Other items included sweats, underwear, and many different types of T-shirts, which have continued to be a popular form of apparel released. According to Star Wars: 1,000 Collectibles Memorabilia and Stories from a Galaxy Far, Far Away by president and CEO of Rancho Obi-Wan Stephen J. Sansweet, "the number of different T-shirt designs produced worldwide in more than three decades easily exceeds five thousand and is probably twice that amount."
After Return of the Jedi, Lopez said there was "a huge explosion in the amount of apparel items from the Special Edition and prequels." However, these more recently released items are not as sought after by collectors.
"A lot of people will own items from that era, the '90s to the 2000s, but it's not usually viewed as a collectible," Jenkins explained. "It's more of a 'now that it's in an adult size I can wear it so this is a cool Star Wars shirt that I have' or leggings or socks or whatever. They branched out into ties and kind of more formal attire. There are some pieces that would still be sought out, but for the most part they're not really viewed by most people as collectibles. They're more thought of as just what they are which is clothing."
While there are a lot of items to be found within vintage apparel collecting, aspiring collectors don't have to worry about it being an expensive hobby.
"It's interesting in that apparel collecting is one of the few areas in Star Wars collecting really that has not exploded in value so you can still find a lot of items from '77 to '83 at very reasonable prices and the downside is that there aren't very many people viewing them as collectibles," Jenkins said. "There wasn't a lot of that that was saved in kind of unused condition so a lot of times when you find an old T-shirt it's been well worn or a hat that's seen better days."
Select items within the area though could cost you more.
"Some of them that have a lot of kitsch value or maybe fond memory value tend to go up more in value. An example of that might be the Thinking Cap company did a line of hats for the Empire Strikes Back and one of them that they did was a Yoda ears hat. So it was a baseball hat, but it had big Yoda ears on the side and then a patch on the front that said Yoda, which was pretty funny. Those come in 3 or 4 or 5 different kinds of colors but just because of the nature of the hat a lot of people seek those out even if they don't actively collect all apparel," Jenkins said.
To all three experienced collectors, new collectors will enjoy entering the area the most if they go after what they like, what appeals to them, and what they find most interesting. Lopez recommended new collectors research what's out there first so they have a good understanding of what's been made and the selection of items. Finding out about the different areas you're interested in will also help you be able to tell the difference between a legitimate and a counterfeited item which will save you money, according to Jenkins.
"In my experience the main ways to build an apparel collection would be through going on eBay or looking for clothing embedded in collections on Craigslist," Chamberlain advised. "If someone doesn't want to buy a collection but buy individual pieces, the biggest market really would be eBay and then you just scan a lot. Don't automatically start buying the first thing you see though. You might see $50 for a belt buckle and then realize if you waited 2 weeks by scanning 'oh here it is for $20 to $30.'"
New collectors will also want to pay attention to how they display these items. According to Chamberlain they should be kept out of direct light, kept in dry conditions, and kept dust-free to avoid discoloration. Jenkins said collectors should avoid putting fabrics in places where moths or other things might want to eat them and that for items like leather belts there are proper leather treatments to keep them supple and from cracking. The more you learn about the items you're collecting, the more you'll know about the best ways to care for your collection. You can also display your items in a compelling way if you have the space, according to Lopez.
"I use mannequin or mannequin forms [and] mannequin heads for caps and hats that look really great displayed that way. A lot of times people that collect apparel end up stacking it on shelves like folded flat shirts and it's not displayed well. While I have a ton of them stacked, I have nice unique interesting ones on mannequins and mannequin forms," he said.
While such a large area of collecting might seem intimidating to join, its size can also make it a lot of fun. One of the reasons Chamberlain likes the area is that even after all these years he keeps finding things he doesn't have on a pretty regular basis. To Jenkins, it's a very fun area that he hopes more people will become interested in.
"The more people we can get involved in it, the more people can find things and we can all work together to find new items that we didn't know about before and begin to trade those," he said.
There certainly appears to be something for everyone in this area. Whether you're interested in every item with Darth Vader, in love with just socks, or are eager to get your hands on everything, fascinating finds and new discoveries await any Star Wars fan that decides to join the vast world of vintage clothing collecting.