HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA — It seems ironic that the world's most recent form of media has so much of its content dedicated to nostalgia. Turns out the Web is the ideal place to store collections of items that predate its own existence - and if you're interested in reconnecting with a childhood memory, sampling ephemera from before your time, or simply shaking your head at the clothes that some mothers' children used to wear, the Retrolounge can entertain you with the past well into the future.
Created by Web and graphic designer, Patricia Gaspar, Retrolounge is, in fact, a collection of collections - hundreds of offsite links to retro-themed content around the world, and accessible through a rather unusual index. Links are divided into 12 categories (advertising, cinema, fashion, music, toys, photography, etc.) which load into a compact window above the category index - and when a category's list is extensive enough to require extra space, the standard scrolling option is replaced with mini 'frames' that slide into place with the click of a mouse. Choosing a new category results in reloading the entire Web page, but moving within a category is instantaneous.
And with that minor variation on a basic function, Retrolounge's work is largely done. Visitors simply look for an entry that piques their interest and set off in exploration. (Destination sites open into their own windows - leaving the index waiting in the background.) And while any of the sites listed here could be found through traditional Web search methods, Retrolounge serves to both gather the best of this material into one convenient spot, and at the same time offer sites that most of us would have never thought to go looking for in the first place. (Unless you were already planning a visit to "Calling Captain Future," or "Space Age Pop a Go-Go.")
Naturally, as this is a collection of sites from around the Web, created by designers of all levels of dedication and expertise, there is a great deal of variety as to the quality of Retrolounge's offerings - and at least a few destinations have dropped off the Net entirely. That said, things get off to a promising start with the very first (at time of writing) listing in the very first (Advertising) category. (Listings and categories are arranged alphabetically.)
1920's Transit Posters offers a dozen or so promotional works for the Chicago Rapid Transit Authority's "El" trains. Created by some of the city's best graphic artists of the time, these more than full-screen images once promoted various destinations rather than the trains themselves, and now serve as an artistic 1920s tour of some of Chicago's landmarks.
The next site takes visitors straight from the sublime to the ridiculous with a selection of 1960s Trouser Ads. Featuring only twelve ads, this gallery still demonstrates that the only thing more ludicrous than fashion is the advertising of same - as, for instance, when a perfectly serious-looking model clings to the leg of a trouser-clad male, while they're both posed in the middle of a child's model race car track. Other 'highlights' include "Campus" sportswear's impressively irrelevant slogan ("...what sculptors wear when the chips are down"), and the entire "Eleganza" collection - which also happens to include a leg-hugging model. (Something in the water during the 60s, perhaps.)
Other collections range from game show ads, to vintage travel brochures and luggage tags, 100 years of "Popular Mechanics" magazine covers, and Swanson Food's own collection of their TV Dinner promotions - and we haven't even left the Advertising section. Other categories hold a tour of Expo 67, 'Space Age' design from the 70s, a survey of "Star Trek" comic books, Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Car, 'vintage' Swedish rock band promo photos, and the terrifying category, "It came from the 1971 Sears Catalog!"
Depending on your interest level, some sites offered at Retrolounge could take hours to visit on their own, and the entire collection is definitely too extensive to cover in a single visit. (While many links connect to one-page components of larger sites, others -like Ad*Access- are extensive collections in their own right.) But return visits shouldn't get boring at a site with this kind of variety, when a single click can take you from Harley Davidson motorcycles to a History of the IBM Typewriter - but don't be too hard on the fashions, because at some point, they'll all be back in style again.
Retrolounge can be found at http://bitlounge.net/retrolounge/.