A Year in Tees: 1981

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The year 1981 wasn’t just IBMs and “Endless Love” (although we thank you for that hit, Mr. Richie). The Pope and Reagan survived potential assassins. There was a recession with unemployment surpassing the 2.5 million mark. Paris Hilton was born! Both terrible and terrific things happened. But, just like any other moment in history, some light shined through and we captured it on tees.

Where Can I Find a Woman Like That?

Rick Springfield 1981 tour tee

We don’t know, Mr. Springfield. We don’t even know her name. You just keep calling her “Jessie’s Girl.” General Hospital-actor-turned-summer-anthem-hero, Rick Springfield and his unrequited love sure made for one heck of a song in 1981. It took the song 19 weeks after its release, but it eventually climbed to number 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in August of ’81.

Springfield stated that he was taking a stained-glass class when he began longing for his friend’s girlfriend. He, of course, changed the name of the friend to Jessie. Guess where the name came from? That’s right, a t-shirt. According to a 1999 Entertainment Weekly article, Springfield saw the name of Los Angeles Rams’ wide receiver, Ron Jessie, on one of his favorite t-shirts.

We owe a lot to t-shirts, too, Mr. Springfield.

Raiders of the Lost Ark: A tee so nice, you can’t look directly at it!

Indiana Jones

There’s a giant boulder chasing a renegade archeologist, peoples’ faces are melting off, Nazis are in pursuit of The Ark of the Covenant, and…there are snakes (“Why’d it have to be snakes?”). This movie has everything. It’s no wonder Raiders of the Lost Ark was nominated for 9 Academy Awards the following year, and grossed more than $240 million in North America.

No matter which Indiana Jones film is your favorite, 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark kicked off the franchise and set the ball rolling for future Indiana Jones movies. Just remember, when that ark is opened, don’t look directly at it!

“Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.”

Retro MTV tee

Those were the first words spoken on-air on August 1, 1981 by one of MTV’s creators, John Lack. To promise rock and roll and then follow it up with The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” was a bit misleading, but hey, it forever changed the record industry and the way music reached the ears of America’s youth.

There are some of us who remember when music television was just that–music videos presented by VJs. Pre-Real World, Road Rules, and Beavis and Butthead, MTV only reached a few thousand people on a single cable system in northern New Jersey. Now, its impact and influence–for better or worse–is undeniable and, some might say, indispensable to modern music and pop culture around the globe.

PCs Worthy of Tees

Old School IBM tee

Just 20 years before International Business Machines (IBM) released their first line of Personal Computers, the 5150, IBM computers were nearly $9 million and took up a quarter-acre of space. They needed more than 50 people to operate, and required their own air conditioning. A computer, yes, but not too personal.

The IBM Personal Computer hit the market on August 12, 1981 with a price tag of $1,565. Affordable and able to fit in the home (the size of a portable typewriter), the new IBM PCs could hook up your TV, run complex games, and process text.

Additional bells and whistles (keep in mind, a monitor was considered a bell-and-whistle, and was not included in the $1,565 sticker price) could nearly double the cost. Throw in some color graphics and souped-up storage, and the price could easily quadruple.

Luckily, we’ve progressed in leaps and bounds over the past 35 years. Today, we can whip out our smart phones and order a t-shirt commemorating the IBM 5150 in a matter of seconds.

How sweet it is. But what is it?

Aspartame Tee

Aspartame: it’s not sugar, but it’s sweet. So, what is it? It’s a methyl ester of the aspartic acid/phenylalanine dipeptide. Duh!

The controversial additive was first developed in 1965, but the FDA didn’t approve it for use in food until 1981. Originally, the artificial sweetener, aspartame, was released as Nutrasweet. Today, aspartame, and artificial sweeteners like it, are found in everything from diet sodas and sugar-free chewing gum, to this pretty sweet tee.

All in all, some pretty rad things happened in 1981, and these tees document some of the best.

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