In 2006, Matt Halfhill thought there could be an opportunity to do something similar to tech blogs like Gizmodo but about sneakers, moving the conversation between avid sneakerheads out of online forums into a venue with frequent posts, an easy-to-read layout and a voice. He called it NiceKicks.com.
He liked how some blogs had regular weekly features, so around July 2006, he came up with a few of his own. “Release Reminder” would be about when new shoes were going to drop. “Throwback Thursday” would be about an old shoe he liked, to break up the focus on all things new. And naturally, it would come out on Thursdays.
Little did Halfhill know that Throwback Thursday would turn into such a huge phenomenon — it’s now the nostalgic and self-deprecating practice of posting an older photo of yourself, often on Instagram, on Thursdays. The hashtag #tbt has been used 193 million times on Instagram and #throwbackthursday 38 million times, according to a spokeswoman.
It’s not clear that Halfhill was the first person to ever combine the words throwback and Thursday, though he’s cited as the earliest relevant mention in the Throwback Thursday entry on KnowYourMeme.com, a site owned by Cheezburger.
In a phone interview this week, Halfhill said the original explanation was, “I’m a huge sucker for alliteration, and I was a big fan of throwback jerseys, like retro football jerseys, so it just came to me.”
NiceKicks is now Halfhill’s full-time job, with 3.5 million monthly readers, and it’s also turned into a physical sneaker store in Austin. Halfhill said he was wearing a reissued pair of Nike Air Max 98s as we talked on the phone, just like the ones he’d originally bought when they came out and he was in the eighth grade.
Throwback Thursday spread fairly slowly at first, and it wasn’t until later that it became associated with old photos.
There’s a record on Twitter that a mommy blogger posted a Throwback Thursday post about babies in August 2007, but the picture is no longer online. The oldest tweet with the hashtag #throwbackthursday came in October 2008 from a Southern California woman on Twitter, S. Pink, who was waxing nostalgic about a 1997 music video by Lil’ Kim. That’s according to the Twitter search site Topsy, which is now owned by Apple.
In 2011, the hashtag phenomenon popped over to Instagram, a natural home as it became more visual. The first #throwbackthursday photo was from Bobby Sanders. It was a picture of Hot Wheels cars that weren’t particularly old, but Sanders used an old-timey Instagram filter. The first #tbt was posted by Instagram user Ashro of a man holding a dog. She captioned it “When our pup was just a baby. #spoiled #tbt.”
By 2012, posting old photos on Instagram on Thursdays had taken hold. BuzzFeed looked up Bobby Sanders, who told them he didn’t recall his inspiration. “I don’t even remember that picture — it must have been something on my phone and I didn’t have anything better to post that day,” he said.
By 2013, #tbt was one of the most popular hashtags on Instagram. It’s purer of heart than many other hashtags, which are often used to get more views for a photo and can seem forced. Just about everyone has old pictures of themselves. Often they are funny or ugly or cute, or all three.
There doesn’t seem to be any other day of the week that has the same serendipitous random occasion associated with it, though the Instagram spokeswoman noted that “#mancrushmonday” or “#mcm” and “#womancrushwednesday” or “#wcw” are coming up in the ranks.
Throwback Thursday originator Matt Halfhill of NiceKicks took a stab at explaining what it all means. “It’s allowing yourself to take a break from the news and have a moment to celebrate what happened in the past. We human beings become products of our past experiences — just the same as shoes.”