Can You Spot a Fake Vintage T-Shirt?

January 12, 2009 by Jimmy J  · 17 Comments  

vintage digital underground shirt

I purchased both of these t-shirts on eBay from different sellers who had an array of vintage t-shirts up for auction. Based on how they were listed, described and photographed, I bought them under the assumption they were true vintage articles.

Ooooops! Yes, even me, the guy who authored three guides on how to shop for a genuine vintage t-shirt on eBay, got duped! How could this happen? Well, truth be told, the most important factor on determining if a shirt is genuine can only be done while it’s in your possession. Pictures, descriptions, and other methods can deceive even the most seasoned vintage veteran.

We’re currently hard at play in the Defunkd Laboratories creating a few tests you can perform at home to ensure that shirts you’ve purchased are actually real. “Of course they are!” you say? Don’t be so sure. Hell, I got burned. When the voting closes in one week, we’ll reveal the correct answer and the exact methods we used on these t-shirts to test them.

Now let’s see if you can succeed where I failed. Can you spot the fake? Before you log your vote, feel free to study up on our vintage t-shirt guides – there’s plenty of useful information there that can be applied directly to these shirts.

To level the playing field, both t-shirts were photographed under the exact same lighting conditions, neither have been retouched, brightened or altered in any way.

Shirt #1 is in near mint condition. The print is bright and the tag is missing.

Shirt #2 has yellow stains. The print is faded and it’s tagged, “Screen Stars Best.”

Find out the chilling conclusion to the poll and the correct answer here.

  • frank

    All right!
    Stop whatcha doin’
    ’cause I’m about to ruin
    the image and the style that ya used to.
    those shirts look funny
    and yo you wasted money see
    i think they should reverse the final value fee.
    Now gather round
    this is how it went down
    Jimmy was listing stuff in the Lost and Found.
    and found a DU shirt was missing from his shelf
    so he logged in to ebay myself
    My name is Defunkd pronounced with a funky
    Yo vintage t-shirts, how i like to pimp thee .
    And all the sellers in the top ten–please allow me to bump thee.
    I’m paid it tall, y’all,
    and now i’m super grumpy
    i’ll amaze you all with how the knockoffs stumped me.

    had enough, yet?

    i once got busy in a thrift store bathroom

  • Jimmy J


    That can’t be topped. I just wasted 20 minutes trying to do the next verse.

  • Ricky

    Those pit stains look legit.

  • lilo

    ugghhh-i got ripped recently too-bought an Ozzy tee on ebay that had been cut up all sexy like and claimed to be vintage but in reality looked like an old tee with a re-printed Shout at the moon on it. $65 i could’ve wasted on tall boys!

  • Straight Gangsta Mack

    Those pit stains do look crazy wack funky, but that evenly faded and slightly smaller print is just plain wack!

  • VintagePimps

    # 2 is semi-legit vintage, although it has one of the worst tags ever made (Screen Stars/Best). The material on these shirts is usually not soft at all, and not very visually stimilated on the eye. These tags and material came a LONG way from the blue Screen Stars tag of the late 1970s. I count these kinds of tags in my dreams.
    So back to the fakes on ebay. My advice, only buy from trusted certified vintage sellers (ShirtswithBalls,VintagePimps!, Hattrick, SmithandPooter and my main man Defunkd to name a few). And there are a few.
    Nothing worse than getting a fake vintage tee in the mail after a week of waiting. Nothing.

  • frank

    VP, i dig those blue tagged Screen Stars to the maxx, too, and can barely hide my disdain for the black taggers in my listings. I wonder when exactly they switched tags? because it seems like they changed their manufacturing process at the same time. I’m trying to piece together that timeline…

  • Jimmy J

    I estimate the Screen Stars Best tag surfaced somewhere between 90-92?

  • Shankly Mr Frankly

    Hey Frank. I don’t if this will help you with your timeline or just be redundant of what you already know but…I have had some 1990 shirts with tan screen stars tags (maybe just leftover 1989 stock that they printed on) and some 1989 shirts with the black screen stars best tags.

    p.s. in 1990, “best” became slang for “worst”….or at least “sub-par and bulky”.

  • Kevin

    My guess is that the second one is fake and the first one is real.

  • frank

    wow, Mr. Frankly came out of the woodwork as well! All of the vintage heavyweights gather here- I can’t hang at the same lofty heights, but to quote the Warriors, I “rumble anyway”.

    Yes, I think you’re right on in terms of that timeline for the black tag for sure. Those blue tagged ones are up there with old Russels and Champions on my Keep For Myself list.

  • Travis

    Hey, is it more common for a dupe t-shirt to be sold pricey or sold cheap? I bought a Sheila E. shirt of which I’m suspicious (good condition, no tag), but got it so cheap (under $12 plus shipping) that it doesn’t make sense that they’d go to the trouble. Or does it?

  • Jimmy J

    For sure to be sold for top dollar – the screen printing process is not a simple process – there would have to be a consistent and higher payoff. If you’re duplicating from a print, it’s a lot of work to create the screens for each specific color. That’s why screen printers don’t like to bother with small orders, because the set up is very time consuming.

    Duplicating stuff that doesn’t sell well would be like counterfeiting $1 bills.

    However if it’s a t-shirt printing machine that prints one offs and doesn’t require any screens – complete done in 10 minutes, they might be more willing to experiment, but the end product is far less convincing.

  • London Eye Vintage / facebook –

    WELL …… OK ! It’s so sad & stupid how these stores are just ripping everyone off !!!!! To have the Gaul to call it vintage, and they might as well be Old Navy !!!! Lmao !!!! If you want true vintage email me or go to our FaceBook …. We got it !!!!! I laugh every time I see these fakes on some one , but at the same time I stop to show or teach them what is authentic!
    If the TAG looks new it’s prob. NOT vintage ….. Most of the time their is always a slight fade ….google vintage t-shirts . All the at least first 10 – 20 sites were fake !!!!! If they have BULK it’s fake …
    Sorry you got had …… Reach me at !
    London Eye Vintage on Face Book

  • Paul Evans

    I bought one of these Black Flag shirts from rainbowgasoline a while back and noticed another one had been posted up. If this shirt isn’t a phony, I don’t know what is, frankly. The screen printing is raised and too-good-of-new-to-be-true. I have sent the seller a polite and genteel Q informing him of my suspicions, but so far, no answer. I think someone took a pile of period-correct Screen Stars shirts and silkscreened a Pettibon flyer on the suckers. If it were genuine, why wouldn’t the seller be charging out the roof for it, given that he clearly knows what the value of the real deal would potentially be?

  • Paul Evans
  • Steve

    i have alot of real deadstock vintage blank t-shirts several different brands and sell some on ebay. I have seen them back up listed by the buyer with time appropiate iron ons on them. I love vintage but dont subscribe to the wrong info out there like stains and holes give character. a chick dont know that stain has been there since 1952, she just thinks your a slop. and as for holes, only ones that make sense like a couple tiny holes on the lower back of a old vans tee where you know they had a wipe out, or a small burn on a concert shirt where you know they lost the cherry or seed popped. crusty pits r never cool…ever