How to Collect Vintage T-Shirts

We discuss: how old vintage t-shirts should be, why vintage t-shirt collecting is great, things to look for when collecting vintage tees and tips for making sure your tee is actually vintage.

Stores like Urban Outfitters try to recreate the vintage look with fake Harley Davidson or Nirvana tees. But nothing beats the thin texture and threadbare seams of an authentic vintage tee. 

What is vintage?

For most dealers and resellers, vintage clothing was made at least twenty years ago. This year (2020) is special, because it means vintage is stepping into the 2000s.  

Vintage Nirvana T-shirts


Why collect vintage t-shirts? 

Honoring pop-culture icons keeps our informal history alive, and vintage clothing is way more sustainable and affordable than shopping for new clothes. Most importantly, your vintage tee can be a great conversation starter. 


Choosing vintage t-shirts

You may have seen someone flex the Tupac t-shirt they found for dirt cheap at the thrift store. Rare as those moments are, they do inspire future tee collectors. Pick themes you personally enjoy, whether it’s metal bands, rap singers, cartoon graphics or sports teams--whatever.  

Vintage tee collectors love to go on about their finds. Every detail of a vintage tee adds character: 

  • the length
  • the cut
  • the faded dye 
  • the cracked silkscreen print
  • the silk screen alignment 
  • the outdated print styles
  • the stains 
  • the holes 

Some collectors can tell you the specific faded hue of black that they found on a certain tee. That’s why vintage tee collecting is fun. You don’t have to fill your living room with t-shirts to be a vintage tee collector or sell to Kanye West, but these things do happen. 

Vintage Home Alone t-shirt

How do you tell if a t-shirt is really vintage?

Since there are so many bootlegged copies of vintage t-shirts available, collectors look for a number of clues to verify authenticity. 

Check the tag

First, make sure you’re not buying a shirt with an H&M or Urban Outfitters tag. Look for older looking labels. Some have printed dates. 

Also look for “Made in U.S.A.” on the label. Today, only 2 percent of apparel is made in the U.S. compared to 70 percent in 1980 and 50 percent in 1990. 

Check the seams

Prior to about 1999, t-shirts were sewn with a single line of stitching on the sleeves, shoulders and waist hemlines and seams. After that, most tees started to have a double stitched seam. 

Check for a date

Some silkscreened designs include a small date with a copyright printed at the bottom of the design. 


Vintage Lion King t-shirt


Where to shop for vintage t-shirts

The best places to find cheap vintage t-shirts in person (from cheap to expensive) are: 

  • flea markets 
  • thrift shops
  • consignment stores
  • vintage specialty shops

Don’t forget to wear gloves. TheThriftLord also shops at rag houses, but they’re only accessible in certain places like L.A.

For shopping online try:

Use filters and like posts you want to refer back to. 

Tell us your peak-thrift moment in the comments!

We are thrilled to unleash our Vintage Drip collection! Check back regularly for great vintage finds. 

Article written by Erica Eller


1 comment

  • I scored so big this weekend, five or so vintage tees a Smokey the Bear, a Postal Carriers Union tee (super timely) and some great one of a kind ones from local schools and groups

    Eleadah Clack

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