If you grew up in the 1960s and ‘70s, you’d know those feet anywhere.
Tiny footprints were embroidered on the sleeve or pocket of every Hang Ten shirt. Back then it seemed that everyone under 20 owned at least one of the knit jerseys with the rainbow stripes. The Brady Bunch kids often wore Hang Tens.
Now Hang Ten International in Santa Ana is introducing another generation to those famous feet. The company, recognizing a growing nostalgia for Hang Ten shirts, is reproducing the originals--footprints and all.
“In Newport Beach, a lot of kids had been buying up the old Hang Ten shirts in thrift shops. They had become a hot commodity,” said Marcia Hazan, director of corporate merchandising for the San Diego-based International Licensing Corp., Hang Ten’s parent company. “It became cool to find these at the swap meet.”
Hazan didn’t fully appreciate some people’s devotion to the old shirts until she was approached by a couple of 20-year-olds at a recent action sports retailer show. “I love those shirts,” one young man told her. “I collect them. I even have the feet tattooed on my chest.” At that, he peeled off his shirt to show off his Hang Ten tattoo.
Interest in Hang Ten shirts has been fueled by nostalgic TV shows such as “The Wonder Years,” which occasionally features Kevin Arnold and his brother Wayne wearing Hang Tens in ‘60s and ‘70s suburbia. Actor Val Kilmer wore a Hang Ten shirt when he posed as Jim Morrison for a publicity shot for the movie “The Doors.”
Hang Ten has decided to ride this wave of nostalgia.
“We went back to the archives and found the old patterns,” Hazan said. “We also found the mill that made the original knits. It was still in business.”
The repro Hang Tens are identical to the originals, right down to the embroidered feet, gold-and-brown Hang Ten tag.
And, of course, those vivid stripes.
“The stripes are the best,” Hazan said. “We didn’t even have to re-color them. They were so right-on.”
Earth tones in what were later seen as tacky combinations such as orange and green or brown and yellow are once again hot.
“They’re real ‘70s colors--the uglier the better,” Hazan said jokingly.
In addition to the exact reproductions, Hang Ten is producing the old-style shirts with ‘90s-style color combinations.
“We decided to be true to what Hang Ten stood for in the ‘60s,” said Derby Williams, divisional manager of Hang Ten in Santa Ana, who designs the shirts and coordinating walk and skate shorts, “but we know we can’t depend entirely on nostalgia. We have to update the line.”
Two of the company’s best sellers are vintage styles: a black-and-white striped velour and a navy knit with fine lines of pale blue, turquoise and gray.
Hang Ten still uses yarn-dyed stripes, so colors such as yellow, orange and turquoise really pop out.
For the really hard-core Hang Ten fan, there’s a chocolate brown and pea green shirt with a brown collar that looks like a garage-sale find.
“The only way you can tell it’s not vintage is the size,” Williams says of shirts like those. “We’re not making them as small as we used to. Skaters and surfers like their clothes baggy. We couldn’t sell a tight-fitting knit today.”
Something else has changed with the times: Hang Ten shirts originally sold for about $5. Today they’re about $35.
Duke Boyd of San Clemente has more than a passing interest in the resurfacing of Hang Ten shirts: He created the originals 30 years ago.
While a student at Long Beach State in the late ‘50s, Boyd designed a line of sturdy surf trunks he sold to surf shops up and down the coast. The business grew, creating one licensing company, Hang Ten, and then another, Lightning Bolt.
In fact, Boyd, now 57, was recently named to the International Surfing Hall of Fame for founding those two companies.
He maintains that the secret of the shirts’ success were their colors. He used expensive dyes to give the shirts a richer look.
As for the famous logo, Boyd and his partner, seamstress Doris Boeck, had been discussing a name for a new clothing line. Boeck asked Boyd what surfing feat was equivalent to a hole-in-one in golf.
“The answer to that, at the time, was hang 10,” Boyd said. To hang 10, a surfer had to dangle all 10 toes over the nose of the board.
“I thought the name was actually pretty corny. To surfers it was a little hard to swallow.”
But Boyd sat down and sketched a logo.
“I designed two feet as if they were walking across sand, and I wrote out Hang Ten kind of rough, as if I saw it on the wall in Malibu.”
Just as it did 30 years ago, Hang Ten is marketing the line to males between the ages of 13 and 22. It’s placing bus stop ads that say, “They Were Bitchin’ Before You Were Born.”
“You’ll see a kid pick out a Hang Ten, and his mother will say, ‘Your father wore that shirt,’ ” Williams said.
The shirts are also big with thirtysomething adults who wore them the first time around.
“Hang Ten represents a period of time that was perhaps the best of their lives, when they were going to the beach or going to the movies before they had any responsibilities,” Hazan said.
Hang Ten shirts are all over Orange County surf, skate and specialty clothing stores, including Beach Access in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa; Sun Diego in the Westminster Mall, CDM in Corona del Mar, Equipe in Laguna Beach, Lido Surf in Newport Beach, Electric Chair in Huntington Beach and Nordstrom.
“We’re cranking,” Williams said. “I don’t think anyone realized the power of the feet.”