While Missouri orthodontist Wes Allai was watching the World Series last month, one of his patients was binge-watching the new season of “Stranger Things” on Netflix.
Good thing, because she saw something on the show that she couldn’t wait to tell Allai about. She sent him a Facebook message: One of the show’s characters was wearing a T-shirt like the one Allai gave her years ago.
“She was watching ‘Stranger Things’ on Netflix, and the shirt I gave her 25 years ago was on Dustin,” Allai told KOLR in Springfield.
Dustin, played by Gaten Matarazzo, wears a T-shirt Allai designed in 1982 in episodes five and six. The sci-fi show is set in a small Indiana town in 1983.
KOLR noticed the T-shirt and confirmed with Netflix that it was Allai’s design.
The bright orange shirt shows little astronauts putting braces on a giant set of teeth in front of a blue planet. The punchline: “Brace Yourself for the Future!”
“The story behind the design is so awesomely nerdy and ridiculously 80s that it seems fated to end up on the show,” declared WheretoWatch.com.
Allai told the website he was inspired by NASA’s space shuttle program and the intersection of orthodontics and space-age technology. “The wires that we use to treat our orthodontic patients nowadays were all developed by NASA,” Allai told the website.
So he sat down one night and combined the two themes for the T-shirt design, which he copyrighted.
“They said that their people who were doing ‘Stranger Things’ were cruising the Internet one time for 80s nostalgia wear that would fit the thing they were doing,” Allai told WhereToWatch.
“Because the kid, Dustin, who was wearing it had braces or was getting braces, they tied that together. That’s how they said they came up with my T-shirt.”
Allai started giving the shirts away to every patient shortly after he went into practice, which means every patient has gotten one for the last three decades.
He still gives them to new patients, but other than his office there’s only one other place to get one. Someone is selling the T-shirts for about $20 on Etsy.
Allai vouched for the seller.
“My daughter Molly is selling them,” he told WhereToWatch. “I turned it over to the four daughters. I said I’ll buy the T-shirts, you guys do with this what you want. The money is yours for the grandkids.”
Dustin has become quite the trendsetter on the show. “Stranger Things” merchandise is sold from Target to Louis Vuitton, “but some fans of the show want to dive a little deeper into the ’80s nostalgia, wearing elements from the character’s actual costumes,” notes GQ.
Fans went gaga over a purple Science Museum of Minnesota hoodie Dustin wore in the first episode of Season 2. So many people wanted it that the museum had to re-release the ’80s design. In two weeks, and after a website crash, the museum raised about $600,000 from the Brontosaurus hoodies and T-shirts.
The Riverfront Times notes how the Missouri shirt fits Matarazzo’s character to a T.
In real life, Matarazzo has a condition called cleidocranial dysplasia that affects the development of his bones and teeth. Dustin has the same condition on the show.
Matarazzo, who is 15, explained on a British talk show before the new season began that he does not have collarbones and still has his baby teeth, which causes him to lisp. He wants to talk publicly about it, he said on “The Jonathan Ross Show.”
“I just want to raise awareness for it and let people know that it’s not something that you should be afraid of showing,” he said.
The condition kept him from getting acting roles because no one could figure out how to work it into an already-written script, he has said in other interviews.
Then the creators of “Stranger Things” came along.
In one episode, notes the Times, a frustrated Dustin tells his junior high pals: “I told you a million times, my teeth are coming in. It’s called cleidocranial dysplasia.”
He has a new fan in Missouri. Allai had never seen “Stranger Things” before his T-shirt showed up on the show.
“I’d like to meet him or talk to him,” Allai told KOLR. “I’d really like to get a signed T-shirt from him. That’d be really great.”