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A Torn Tag May be an Indication Your Tee is a Vintage Bootleg, Here’s Why

A Torn Tag is a Sign of a Bootleg


A Torn Tag May be an Indication Your Tee is a Vintage Bootleg, Here’s Why

It’s important to note that I’m focusing on bootlegs that are actually vintage, so at least 20 years old. This has nothing to do with modern bootlegs that feature counterfeit tags like the ones showcased in our fake tag archive. Those are meant to be vintage knock-offs, while vintage bootlegs are two decades old, often feature original artwork, and are generally accepted by the vintage community.

In the mid-2000s I connected with a gentleman who was a concert merch manager in the 1980s and 90s. He had thousands of vintage t-shirts in storage – and we partnered up to sell them all on eBay for a few years. As he started sending them to me, I noticed that a portion of his deadstock was bootlegs. He told me plenty of stories about trips to the parking lot outside of a venue, accompanied by the venue’s security, and confiscating tees that were being peddled by bootleggers. The merch crew would split their bounties among themselves – which is why they ended up in various garages across America.

Many of his t-shirts had tags that were torn up the middle. But they were deadstock, so it obviously didn’t happen naturally. I asked him if this was a policy of the licensee, to tear the tags after being confiscated and he said no, that’s how they came.

Why Do T-Shirt Manufacturers Cut Tags?

This is done because someone in quality control noticed something wrong with the t-shirt. It could be a blemish, a loose seam, poor stitching, the color being off, or any other type of visible flaw.

They are called factory seconds, factory rejects, irregulars, or just seconds. Once identified, someone in quality control will slice the tag vertically up the middle to identify it. These are then sold at heavily discounted prices, snapped up by bootleggers, printed on, and then sold – outside of stadiums, or anywhere they can.

A tag cut like this is not something that happens naturally. But, always consider the possibility that an up-and-coming band or artist might have used a lessor expensive blank t-shirt – so there’s also a chance it could be original, but it was just produced on a budget. And consider the other potential reasons for a tag that’s been torn – listed later in this article.

Well, eventually, bootleggers got smart, and wanted to improve their product, but without having to dish out extra loot – so they’d seek out factory rejects and get them for a bargain.

All of the following t-shirts with ripped tags featured bootleg prints.

Factory Seconds 1990s Vintage T-Shirt Brands

oneita power 50 plus tag factory reject ripped FOTL heavy cotton tag factory reject ripped
Hanes heavyweight 50/50 tag factory reject ripped
AAA factory reject ripped tag
FOTL heavy cotton tag factory seconds torn
delta tag factory second torn

If you find a vintage t-shirt with a tag that has been up the middle – there’s a decent chance it’s a bootleg.

But as previously stated, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and vintage bootlegs can be valuable and sought after. And this isn’t a hard rule. There were also plenty of thrifty independent artists or others who just wanted to save a little loot while printing original tees.

So make sure to check for a copyright, and do a print analysis too. And yes this applies to vintage boots – there are plenty of modern knockoffs of vintage boots.

Other Potential Reasons for a Torn Tag

After posting this on Instagram we had a few additional comments as to other reasons why a tag might be torn like this if it wasn’t a factory reject.

“Definitely can be a sign of a vintage boot, but I know some people rip the savers tag through the collar tag and it often rips the collar tag like this.” – vtgkc

“It could have been sold at discount lot stores where they have to destroy the label. in New England it’s ocean state job lot. Or big lots etc. my grandfather used to buy all his “irregular” clothes there and most of the time the shirts had a cut down the center or marker over the pants label sewn in.” – doompile

“In Thailand back in the day, many shops (not all) cut or tore the tag because of when you import t-shirt and cut the tag . the customs will put it to a defective product and the tax would be lower than normal product.” – adtcyk

“It’s also a way to discard an item at the printer if its not centered or some other flaw.” – abellivintage.ssg

So to answer your question, yes, you will inevitably find licensed vintage t-shirts with tags like this too.

Screen Stars Seconds?

I often stumble on 1980s Screen Stars tags (and 90s!) being horizontally cut, with the bottom half cleanly chopped off, but I have yet to determine if these too are rejects/bootlegs, but it would make sense. In these instances, the size remains intact, but the branding is removed. And this is often on deadstock tees – so that seems odd – if a wearer wanted to remove a tag, chances are they would cut more than just the bottom half off.

I investigated a small sampling of band tees with tags like the ones below, and most of them were clearly boots or ones that were undetermined. So something to keep tabs on during your vintage picking journies.

But this could also be the person printing on the shirt – removing branding other than their own.

1980s screen stars tag cut/factory second
1990s screen stars tag cut/factory second

Please post any cut tags you stumble on in the comments below!

Jimmy founded Defunkd in 2004 when he started selling vintage t-shirts online. 20 years of experience later and he hasn't looked back since. Actually, he looks back all the time given he's a sucker for nostalgia. For more, check the history of Defunkd and Jimmy's Expertise.

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