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The Life and Times of a T-Shirt Hustler

perry shall t-shirt collector

Interview

The Life and Times of a T-Shirt Hustler

Meet Perry Shall. That’s him pushing a cart through a thrift store. Perry is a multi-talented dude best known for his art. He creates badass designs for albums, t-shirts, posters, you name it. Check out his impressive handiwork and webstore here. But it’s his admitted “stupid stupid obsession” of collecting vintage tees that caught my eye back in 2014 when we first connected for an interview. Fast-forward seven years and we connected with him yet again in 2021 as we continue to document the life and times of a t-shirt hustler. Both sets of interviews are featured below.

2014

perry shall t-shirt collector

Perry in 2014, Photo: Pooneh Ghana

How many vintage tees do you own?

I haven’t counted recently but I should be somewhere around the 600 range right now. I just went on tour and in the first 2 days I ended up with 6 new shirts. It’s getting kind of crazy.

Any particular old tag you fancy?

It’s probably cliche but I’ve always had a thing for Screen Stars. I don’t know what it is. I think when I first started acknowledging my “problem” and started paying attention to things like tags, Screen Stars were the first brand I started realizing… oh yeah, I’ve got a few of those. I like the way they fit. When you find a good thing, you tend to want to stick with it. I know people love Sneakers and Sportswear and stuff like that but Screen Stars have always treated me right.

Does a rayon blend give you nipple erections?

I don’t really have a fabric preference. If the graphic is right and it doesn’t fit terribly, I’m usually pretty good.

Do you still have tees from when you were a kid?

I still have a few for the most part. When I was 12, the attic to our house was connected to my bedroom and every once and a while I would explore a little. One day I found a big trash bag full of my Dad’s old clothes. All I wanted at 12 years old was to have Band shirts but they were always so expensive. So I open this bag and it’s full of a bunch of them. They’re not “cool” bands for a 12 year old in 1997 but they were Band shirts nonetheless. So I started wearing Bruce Springsteen 1985 tour shirts and an autographed Harry Chapin or Billy Joel “We Didn’t Start The Fire” shirt. I listened to all that stuff with my parents so in my head, I thought I was the coolest dressed kid in my middle school. I still have all of those and a few others from that time period. An Austin Powers ringer tee from when the first movie came out. I bought it at Tower Records and it was probably 2 sizes too big. I have a Beck shirt from 1997 when my mom took me to see him. There are definitely some I know wouldn’t fit me anymore that I wish I still had but they’ve passed on I guess.

Vintage Bootleg Beavis & Butthead T-Shirt
[Mini-Perry celebrates a new Beavis & Butthead tee while wearing bootleg]

What particular genres of vintage tees you collect?

Ughhh here we go hahah. About 2 years ago we got bed bugs in my house (a t-shirt collector’s worst nightmare) and I had to wash and/or dry all of my t-shirts. It was more painful than you could ever imagine but it gave me a chance to re-do everything in my closet. When I did that, I organized everything by color so I had this rainbow-like gradient of t-shirts filling my whole closet. It was pretty cool looking. Recently I re-organized everything again into a bunch of ridiculous categories that mostly make sense to me. I have shirts with comedians on them, I have a section of tv show shirts, movies, vintage Philadelphia shirts, bands my friends are in, Metal bands, Hard Rock bands, assorted 80’s pop music, rap/hip hop shirts, Punk bands, Hardcore Punk bands, Artists, Coca Cola shirts, a whole section for Metallica shirts, a section for Elvis Costello shirts, a KISS section, a Beastie Boys section, 90’s bands, misc, and probably a few others. Those are the most prominent though.

Vintage Beastie Boys T-Shirt Collection

Which artists have inspired you?

Ed Roth is probably the biggest influence for me. He’s the one who really took things to the next level as far as t-shirts with crazy art on them go. A lot of artists that I love were influenced by him as well so it mostly goes back to him. Also Gary Panter’s Pee Wee drawings have always been up there for me. I have some friends that have been designing t-shirts for a long time like Richard Minino aka HORSEBITES and I really love his work and probably wouldn’t be designing or working as hard as I am today without his help. He designs for VNM.

A swarm of moths is headed toward your closet! Which tee do you save?

My yellow Elvis Costello shirt. It’s probably from ’79 or ’80. It was a gift to me from my friend Seth Murray. He said he had a shirt for me that one of his ex-girlfriend’s gave him and he thought I’d like it more than he would. I thought it was going to be some random “funny” shirt or something but he handed me this yellow, beat up, tissue-like rag of a t-shirt. When I unfolded it and saw what it was, I freaked out. It’s perfect in every way.

Vintage Elvis Castello and The Attractions T-Shirt

Any particular tees you’ve had on your radar forever?

Yes! Talking Heads have always been one of my favorite bands and their shirts are usually pretty hard to get for a cheap price. I’ve only spent $60 max on a shirt, once. It was an Elvis Costello shirt and it was a long long time ago. All of the shirts I have were somewhere between $40 or less and I almost never find a Talking Heads shirt for a good price. I don’t even have a preference as to which Talking Heads shirts I’d own. I just want need more.

What t-shirt consistently gets comments from strangers?

I have this Kramer shirt that I bought on eBay. I just searched for Seinfeld shirts and it was ending soon at a cheap price so I got it. I’m a huge fan and didn’t think anything about it. I posted it on my t-shirt blog (I Got This Shirt On) and it blew up. I think it has almost 7,000 notes or something now? I love it and think it’s great and people always comment on it when they see it but I wouldn’t have paid more than $20 for it haha. People are weird.

Vintage Kramer Seinfeld T-Shirt

Whose tee collection do you admire?

I have to give a shoutout to my main man Isac Walter from Minor Thread. He has a few hundred more than me and has been super cool about talking shop and showing the world his amazing collection. Also my man Sergio from Nic Fit Vintage. A few weeks ago he saw I was in NY from my instagram and invited me over to his place to check out his collection. He gave me an old Danzig shirt and told me to send him whatever I thought would be a fair trade. Super nice guy.

Your most valuable and sentimentally valuable tees shirt are?

My most valuable shirt might be the Elvis Costello shirt I mentioned earlier or maybe this Jimi Hendrix shirt I have from 1970 or so. Sentimentally would be any shirts I got from my dad when I was a kid that I’ve held onto.

Vintage Jimi Hendrix Experienced Jersey

Finally, what other vintage do you wear and collect?

I have a large toy collection, vhs/dvd, cassette tapes, records, and my favorite collection I have is my button collection.

buttons2

2021

Perry Shall with T-Shirts

Photo: Bob Sweeney

Let’s pick this thread up right where we left off, 7 years ago? whoa!

I know you’re not asking me to respond to this part yet but HEY MAN missed talking to ya. I still get people messaging me to tell me they found me through our interview! It meant more to me than you even know. I’ve been following Defunkd for MANY years now as you probably remember but still in awe of all you’ve done for vintage and just being a cool dude in general. I appreciate it.

How many tees do you have now?

I’m pretty sure I’m over 2000 at this point. Haven’t counted in a while but I think it’s safe to say it’s at least 2000. But it’s not about the quantity, it’s about the quality. I just happen to have both goin STRONG.

Have you been adding to your Beastie Boys and Talking Heads collections?

I have added to my Beastie Boys collection but sadly a lot of them are just gigantic on me so I gotta be picky lately. But since that interview yeah but maybe only 6 more or so.
Talking Heads collection is stuck at the same sleeveless Speaking In Tongues shirt and now I DO have a US Festival shirt and I guess that kinda counts?

Are you curating any new collections of specific tees?

God, it’s always changing what I’m sorta fixated on. I picked up about 3 big and REALLY good collections over about 2 years. Well, more than 3 but 3 that are crucial to me at this time. So the quick answer to a few long stories is one collection was originally owned by a guy who worked for Rhino Records and was a huge Zappa fan. Another was someone who I am now close with but was recommended to me by another guy who sold me a collection a few years ago. Anyway, her husband passed away sadly but he was the sound man amongst other duties for The Plasmatics. The two of them also worked in Philly music venues for a few decades and so I got their entire collection of maybe 200 shirts or so? Maybe more but like a Danzig shirt from the show they worked, or Faith No More when they played the neighborhood I grew up in before I was old enough to go there haha. And then another was through a friend who originally bought a collection of Record Label promo shirts from the 70s and 80s that was from a dude who owned a record store in NY. So they all kinda self-curated but I’m always looking for vintage Philadelphia shirts.

Have you started to embrace post-2000 tees and tags?

70s/80s Screen Stars always and forever. Post-2000 tees and tags really haven’t been doin anything for me. I just can’t get that excited about it yet. I actually took all of my shirts that were less than 20 years old and put them in bins a few years ago and I’ll revisit them one day and hope to be excited but they’re not even in my count for my tees when people ask. Just vintage at this point. Or like… 99 and older haha. Even 99 is a stretch for me but I digress.

So much has changed in just the last few years. Thoughts?

Hey man, like you, I’ve seen so many trends come and go in vintage for the past 25 years or so since I started buying this stuff. I’m not sweating it. The IG Live stuff is annoying but I get it, I get the appeal, I’ve done a few with Kirby (@deadunion) because he’s a good friend of mine and another with my other good friend Scott (@quizdaddyscloset). I usually only tune in if I have friends in there and wanna cheer them on. All the new kids/grown-ups hopping in on all this, I welcome you. Find me good shit that you think sucks and sell it to me cheap. I live for the 70s and 80s medium-sized tees that nobody seems to want anymore. But seriously, I think for a ton of them it will be something they’re enjoying now and it’s easy enough for them to make money maybe but might dip out in like a year or so? That’s just the vibe I get. I think they don’t think that but I think ultimately, they’ll get sick of the competition they’re all building amongst themselves or find something else to make them money. I love that though. I don’t like to use the term “community” with this stuff because it’s still a dog eat dog world and a lot of people are out to get each other it seems. A lot of people in it for the wrong reasons. For attention or clout. All I care about are the tees and that they’re cared for and carried on, documented, etc. If not for anything else, there will be thousands of Instagram accounts full of archives of vintage t-shirts until Instagram dies out. Like an abandoned museum. But you know, I have always been able to find this stuff cheap and it’s for me, so it’s even more of a reason to just wanna try harder. I’m all about the hunt anyway. I’m at the point where I am lucky enough to get donated really incredible shirts because they will be with me forever and the original owners know and appreciate that. So that’s always been my goal and will continue to be. There’s a lot of life and story in those tees.

Is IG the new eBay? Do you buy on IG?

I occasionally buy on ig but I still get ridiculous RIDICULOUS, CRIMINAL deals on eBay. I don’t like the whole “dm for price” thing on Instagram. I do understand it but it turns me off from asking because I’m too self-conscious about insulting the person’s price because I know how cheap I am with this stuff.

Tell us about your T-Time Show?

So I started filming T-Time (@t_time_shirtshow) before the pandemic stuff happened. I have probably about 3 or 4 full episodes which will be about 3 interviews each. Probably end up being about 22 minutes long.
The point is to find out the deeper story behind the shirts. Why does this person have this still, how long have they had it, where did it come from, why is it special to you, etc.
So I have some famous people I talk to who you’d never think or expect to have stories about t-shirts. Comedians, musicians, collectors who just have a really cool interesting specific collection of tees.
I’ll be able to talk more about it soon though. Since the pandemic hit, I just started going live on Instagram and letting people come in to talk about their shirts with me and it’s been great. I got Gilbert Gottfried on in the beginning and Marc Maron just came on a few weeks ago. You can watch that here.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by T-TIME (@t_time_shirtshow)

You’re an OG collector, tell us about the “olden days,” ha.

So I remember the 90s really well because that’s when I was just starting to find stuff and figure out my style and how that would evolve and sorta come back around actually. ANYWAY, 90s, even 2000s for a bit I remember 25 and 50 cent shirts were still normal for a minute. 80s Adidas tracksuits for $8. Crazy records and tapes, amazing sneakers. Oh man, now I’m thinking about it. It was just so cheap and plentiful. I still think about tees I found as a kid and find so much joy in those memories. Members Only jacket heaven. And Justice For All tour shirt for 50 cents, Jimi Hendrix shirt, 50 cents haha. Like, back then you weren’t really having to feel competitive so much. But if you think about it, goddamn the 2000s had some of the worst styles ever. Oof. I just always kinda looked for the same stuff though. Old t-shirts haha.

Give us the scoop on your recent album covers and other art projects?

I did the new single art for Green Day’s first single they put out in a year. That was pretty exciting to say the least. I do all the artwork for Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys’ record label Easy Eye Sound. That’s always fun and challenging and I get to work with some great musicians. Also working with Kurt Vile a lot more lately and that’s my fellow Philly guy. He has some good t-shirts too man. But just always doing art stuff. Took a break to respond to this actually haha.

Perry Shall Art: Green Day Here Comes the shock Album

Courtesy of Perry Shall/perryshall.com

Are you embracing NFTs for your art or for vintage?

I mean, I am embracing it for others if they are excited about it. I don’t think it’s for me. If it somehow feels like it is, I need to get someone to do all the work for me. My brain can’t comprehend how to do all that stuff. I like money but that’s stressful enough on its own. I don’t know when I could even process the uh… process of doing it. But I really do hope my friends doing it are enjoying it and getting a lot out of it. It’s at least giving people joy or something to do so I like that. As far as their role with vintage tees, I think you know more about that than me, buddy!!!

HARDBALL QUESTION: Can Dry rot be cured?

HAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
It seems like the thing we gotta cure is people’s inability to throw them out. It’s garbage and that’s okay. It’s like keeping a bunch of grass because it used to be a lawn once. What are you gonna do, glue it back together? Lastly, let’s call it what it is, Acid Rot!! I love that name because it sounds like a killer metal band you’d want a t-shirt of. I have you and Dereke to thank for that term. Shoutout to Dereke (@waxandthreadsvintage) who is one of the greatest, and I mean GREATEST vintage sellers, collectors, humans, brains, and friends in vintage.

HARDBALL QUESTION: The $6k Genie, good investment?

Hahaha, so I think it’s a bad investment but of course, I could totally be wrong. If Nordstrom or whoever, you know those kinda high-end fashion companies take on the old Urban Outfitters model of also selling vintage, it could make that Genie shirt worth that much still. I dunno, maybe if a celebrity bought it? But I think $1000 for a t-shirt is too much unless it was owned by fuckin Andy Warhol or something haha. In which case, I’d be like, “yeah, that was fuckin Andy Warhol’s shirt. That dude only wore turtlenecks. $1000? I get it.” But no, I can’t even justify $100 for a t-shirt for me anyway. Maybe one day but I have yet to see the shirt I had to have so badly, I would die if I didn’t buy it for $100.

Cheers Perry! Keep filling those shelves, we’ll catch up with you in seven.

T-Shirt Shelves

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