VIRGINIA BEACH — I was walking around downtown Norfolk one recent evening when I noticed that I was the only one wearing a plaid flannel shirt.
My first thought was that someone needed to introduce those town folk to the world of high fashion. Then I remembered that flannel may be a Pungo thing.
Shirts, whether flannel plaid or t-shirts, have long been a cornerstone of rural Virginia Beach fashion and culture. Many of us grew up wearing flannel shirts for outdoor activities even before they became trendy, but nothing identifies a down-county resident more than a collection of t-shirts complete with hometown logos.
A vintage Pungo t-shirt sold at Munden’s was the first truly local shirt that I can remember. Some of the earliest shirts included a picture of the stoplight, which served as the unofficial city seal of Pungo before it was replaced, for some, by the strawberry. I bought my first Pungo-themed tee in the 1970s.
When I was away at college, the reactions from people from outside the area were hilarious.
No one had ever heard of Pungo, and their knowledge of Virginia Beach was limited to a few trips to the Oceanfront. They didn’t believe me when I explained that a huge portion of Virginia Beach was agricultural and that a one-stoplight farm village served as the hub of the city’s rural southern communities.
Many of the earliest Pungo shirts, like that one, were largely an inside joke for local residents, and some of these have survived the decades. Some t-shirts featured “Pungo University.” I remember one that said “Pungo: World Trade Center,” too.
Other shirts represent different rural communities in the city and specific farms.
Adell Carroll Eden, who grew up in Creeds, has a shirt that speaks to crabbing in Back Bay, and another in her collection has a picture of a setting sun and ducks flying. Others feature Creeds School or Knotts Island decoy carvers.
Eden, who now lives in Texas, moved out-of-state as a young woman, but she would visit John Munden’s store to buy shirts when she was back home.
“When I was outside this area, everyone would want to know where I got them,” Eden said. “I had 10 of them, and I still have them.”
The earliest tees were short-sleeved and were available only in unisex or children’s sizes. The color range, as I recall, was limited to neutral colors or Navy blue.
Today, Pungolians assert their identity with t-shirts from the Pungo Strawberry Festival or from Pungo Board House, and these shirts really are more stylish. They’re available in a variety of styles, sizes and colors.
Anne Lawrence, owner of Pungo Couture, added a different twist to the shirts that she markets in her online business. Lawrence’s shirts – which she refers to as the “615 shirts” – feature a green Virginia Route 615 sign design on them.
That shirt is a good conversation starter, she said, because people from outside the area don’t know where Route 615 is or understand that the green refers to the agricultural portion of the city.
Lawrence is taking a break from her business but plans to begin marketing the shirts on her Facebook page in early 2018.
Flannel shirts, meanwhile, seem to be trendier this year than ever, according to Austin Kelley of Pungo Board House near the Pungo light.
“We got in a load just before Thanksgiving, and they were pretty much sold out in one weekend,” he said.
As for the t-shirts with the Pungo Board House logo, they’re still hot, but there are some changes in style and a return to more neutral colors.
“Some of the shirts have three-quarter length sleeves,” Kelly said. “We also have a lot of t-shirts with sleeves of one color and the torso of another, and we’ve noticed that people seem to prefer the neutral colors, such as black and white, for t-shirts.”
Whether wearing a representation of a favorite farm or eatery or business, or a simple show of specific pride in a community not everyone knows, the tees we wear and keep say a little something about where we are from.
And they give us a chance to tell those may not know about this place where we are from.
Jane Bloodworth Rowe is a freelance writer who grew up in Sigma and still lives in southern Virginia Beach. Reach her via firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC