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The Ultimate Guide to Vintage T-Shirt Books

Ultimate Guide to Vintage T-Shirt Books

Books

The Ultimate Guide to Vintage T-Shirt Books

I’ve been on a mission for at least a decade to document all the vintage t-shirt books in the galaxy. When I first started my mission, a handful of books were published in the 2000s, but once the first wave of the vintage t-shirt gold rush was over, things went dark. So, I started to dig into the earliest t-shirt books I could find, which now all have vintage content by default.

The oldest one I could find was from 1974, then 1978, and one from 1988, so we’re gonna go back, way back.

However, vintage t-shirt books have picked up again recently, so here’s a reverse chronological list of everything we’ve reviewed so far.

Please contact us if we’ve missed a book you want us to review.

Near Future Past

near future past vintage t-shirt bookAuthor: Patrick Rood (@rood.boi

Published: 2024

Number of shirts inside: 200+

Buy it: Roodboi.Store

Not only am I a sci-fi-guy, but this book features a few Star Wars tees from my collection. In other words, you’d have a better chance of doing the Kessel run in under ten parsecs than getting an unbiased review. That said, since this book is breaking new ground, niche-wise, you won’t find these t-shirts in other books, so it’s basically awesome by default.

The contents are divided into four sections: movies, Television, kids, and MISC. The book doesn’t only feature tees—there’s a nice spattering of other vintage apparel, like hats and jackets. There’s a Blade Runner and Tron jacket I’d love to get my torso in. There’s generous Star Trek coverage, which is nice to see. Trek tees have finally picked up steam in the collectibles world, ten years ago, they were a tough sell and largely ignored.

The MISC section is a nice touch, it includes all things sci-fi – magazines, video games, and even art from a few band tees that are sci-fi in nature.

The list of contributors is notable, annnnnnnnnnd now I know who I am bidding against when these types of shirts appear on eBay: @fineminnn, @nevergonnaturndownagain, and @varsitylosangeles, to name a few.

The photos and layout are perfect. Many of the pages showcase a single t-shirt, which is highly appreciated given the artwork and detail in some of these tees. The author also doesn’t mince words – aside from the intro and a short description of each tee, there’s nothing much to read, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The cover art is my favorite of any of the books on this list, and Rood clearly states this is volume one, so it looks like the saga will continue…

Rap Tees Volume 2

rap tees volume 2Author: DJ Ross One (@djrossone)

Published: 2023

Number of shirts inside: 800+

Buy it: Raptees.us

It’s not often that the sequel is better than the first, especially when the first is an epic. Enter RTV2, it’s bigger (page-count-wise) than the OG and arguably better than it. The first edition featured tees from 1980 until 1999. Volume two has an additional 6 years of tees – all the way into 2005. So it touches on some t-shirts that aren’t yet officially vintage, but who’s counting?

Plus, this one has a forward by non other than Chuck D.

Like the first volume, this too was meticulously curated.  Eye-candy is a plenty, it features vintage photography, old advertising – and also isn’t afraid to delve into other pieces of apparel and related promotional items. There’s even a Def Jam jacket that was personalized for Mike D of the Beastie Boys.

The landscape format makes it incredible easy to turn the pages. And the fact that so many are tees are in it, means most of the photos are quite small – but they did an excellent job of showcasing the best designed t-shirts with their own pages.

It’s another journey through the history of Hip Hop and the gold standard for niche vintage t-shirt books. Once you’re done reading both copies make sure to tune into Ross’,  “Rap Tee of the day” on his IG which drop tons of science on the genre.

T-Shirt Fantasy

vintage t-shirt fantasy book Author: Stephen Voland (@stephenvoland

Published: 2020, updated 2022

Number of shirts inside: 200+

Buy it: SOLD OUT

Stephen’s collection has been the stuff of legend in the vintage t-shirt community for at least a decade. Given his awesome style, laid back attitude and a top notch taste in tunes – some are convinced he’s a time traveler from the 1970s. The first page of this book has a dedication to his mom and dad, so you know he’s cool because of his vintage genes (and jeans.)

T-Shirt fantasy is a trip through rock history. It starts off with The King, Elvis, and ends with him too. In between you’ll find a ton of Classic Rock tees, with a small spattering of Metal, Punk, R&B, Country and a few others. Certain bands get well-deserved multiple page coverage, like Led Zeppelin and Grateful Dead to name only a few. Vintage bootlegs are welcome, as they should be, and their designs often outshine their licensed counterparts.

It’s very obvious Stephen lovingly curated this book based on what surely is one of the best collections in the world.

It’s a must own for t-shirt enthusiasts, everyone should have a copy – the only problem is that it’s sold out. So pray to the vintage gods one will show up on eBay at some point in the next ten years.

Rap Tees

Rap TEes BookAuthor: DJ Ross One (@djrossone)

Published: 2015

Number of shirts inside: 500+

Buy it: Amazon

It had been 5 years since the previous vintage t-shirt books had been published, and the community was collectively chomping at the bit.  There has never been this much hype surrounding the release of a vintage t-shirt book, and it was well deserved.

And remember, in 2015, the vintage t-shirt market was in a a drought, so the release of Rap Tees was perfectly timed and helped catapult this genre into the public eye. It was also the first book to feature tees with a “rap tee” style of design made famous by bootleg brands like Bay Club. This book deserves credit for coining the term “Rap Tees” and the build up to the rap tee style / craze that would transpire years later. Sadly, it also meant that you’d likely never be able to purchase a vintage hip-hop tee for a reasonable price, ever again.

This book hits the ground running with a few intro pages that showcase all your favorite tags. In the forward, Ross details how his addiction to these rags formed and how he continued to source them despite a rapidly changing second hand clothing landscape.

Strangely, in recent years, I was chatting with a collector who was talking about another collector he knew that was the “king of rap tees,” and I assumed he was talking about Ross. When I asked him who it was he linked me to one of the recent “vintage t-shirt influencers” and said he had “over 100!” I politely mentioned that Ross probably had 100 Public Enemy shirts alone, and sent him a link to the book, to which he was unfamiliar with. Point being, please don’t crown any rap tee collectors if you’re not even aware of this book, get to know the history.

In the 2000s, our eBay shop was among the first wave of online vintage t-shirt vendors to specifically curate and sell 1980s rap t-shirts, so I thought I had seen them all. Well, it turns out I had only seen a fraction of them – because page after page featured t-shirts that were new to me. Once the books pages started showcasing 1990s stuff, I was once again humbled. And this should be the goal of any niche vintage t-shirt book – unearthing relics.

Ripped: T-Shirts from the Underground

vintage t-shirtsAuthor: Cesar Padilla survived a horrific childhood incident – the loss of his entire t-shirt collection at the hands of his mother. Twenty years later and he’s managed to restore a portion of his collection and recapture his Sunset Strip glory days via poly-cotton.

Published: 2010

Number of shirts inside: 200+

Buy it: Amazon / eBay

Reading this book is like hanging out with a bunch of people who are way cooler than you. The closer you are to the front lines of these musical movements the more you’ll appreciate it. If you’re looking for mainstream vintage t-shirt porn, look elsewhere because this is the most niche of all the vintage t-shirt books. And with a new vintage t-shirt book emerging yearly, this themed piece is one future authors should take note of.

The primary focus of Ripped is counterculture music and vintage t-shirts are the medium best fitted to tell the story. The blurb inside describes it as a visual history, but don’t expect an actual history lesson – do that on your own time. It assumes you’re in the know and it can’t be bothered to explain much. It scores points by speaking directly to its intended audience and remains true to the counterculture attitude it glorifies. Kudos for not sacrificing integrity by trying to appease the masses.

But then I stumbled on some Run DMC t-shirts and assumed I was in for a real treat given the book had so accurately represented other genres. One of my favorite examples of this is an amazing Kraftwerk tee that exudes the history of electronic music. With this in mind, I started fantasizing about what might appear next from the hip-hop persuasion: a DJ Kool Herc or a DIY New York b-boy t-shirt? Maybe some rare Sugar Hill Gang, Afrika Bambaataa or Grandmaster Flash swag? Nope. Just two token Run DMC tees and they stand out like a sore thumb.

I felt ripped off in the rap category, but Ripped still rivals Vintage Rock T-Shirts in terms of obscure pieces. And unlike the Vintage Rock T-Shirts collection I doubt Ripped’s shirts would ever be put up for auction. The inspiration behind the book and its nifty write-ups make it clear the sentimental value of these tees trumps the almighty dollar. The cynical intro by Lydia Lunch is tops compared to those we have reviewed in the past which have all been way too wordy and Pulitzer poised. The rest of the contributors are welcome additions – one even discusses digging through the drawers of the deceased Sid & Nancy. Oh and if you’ve ever wondered the history behind John Lennon’s New York City tee – it’s in the book.

I highly recommend adding this book to your collection, it’s perfect (as long as you close your eyes on pages 170 and 179).

Buy it: Amazon / eBay

Vintage T-Shirts

Authors: If vintage tee addiction is hereditary meet the proof in the poly-cotton pudding. Brothers Patrick and Marc Guetta own and operate the decade-old World of Vintage T-Shirts store on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood.

Published: 2010

Number of shirts inside: 650+

Rating: 4/5

Buy it: Amazon

Welcome to the closest thing to a vintage t-shirt bible you’ll ever find. In 2008 we gave that honor to a book by the same name that contained over 500 tees, but then along came this beast that trumps it by 150. Not only that, the pages are actually about 1/4 larger so you’re getting more bang for your buck. And bigger is definitely better especially because it’s showcasing a vast array of vintage tee genres, rather than just music-related ones.

If I judge this book solely by the cover, it’s perfect. Great fold-out, die-cut raised detailing on the tee’s ringer and raised printing for the homemade style lettering. No, you sicko, the lettering doesn’t have a fuzzy feel to it, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a consideration. None of the other books put as much creativity in to their appearance.

The write-ups banked in the early part of the book are okay, but after reviewing five books previous to it I’m jaded. At this point, there’s nothing new anyone can say about a glorified piece of cloth that Marlon Brando popularized. And since the authors are imports from France there’s also a French version of the write-up, which is not foreign to me given I live in a bilingual country. Don’t worry those pages aren’t wasted with duplicate photos, so for everyone who isn’t fluent in French (including me I dropped it after grade 9, oops) you still have something to gawk at.

Relax, there’s not a lot of reading to do. After the final sentence, it’s strictly tees for 350 pages. The concert tee section won’t blow your mind if you’re a vintage aficionado. I sold many of them during my days as a dealer which is something I can’t say about the contents of Ripped or Vintage Rock T-Shirts. But the book does a bang-up job of touching on all the good things in life: sports, cars, surfing, booze, beer, movies, and tv. Hell, there’s even a fantasy and video game section PLUS Maiden and Harley receive extra attention. Great torsos think alike.

The downside to its size and special printing is that the book also carries the biggest price tag coming in at double the price of its predecessors. Is it justifiable? I think so especially if you’re going to buy just one. Have a look at the first 100 pages compliments of the publisher and do your own math. Pretty ballsy, but only a book so big could offer such a bonus.

Vintage Rock T-Shirts

vintage t-shirtsAuthor: Johan Kugelberg makes records and cooks dinner, and when he’s not doing that he’s writing books inspired by music. For this book, he delves deep into the t-shirt collection of New York’s legendary vintage clothiers, “What Goes Around Comes Around.”

Published: 2007

Number of shirts inside: 300+

Buy it: Amazon / eBay

Meet the holy grail of vintage t-shirt books; and the only one that truly embodies the spirit of rock ‘n roll.

The writing is a lot like lyrics from your favorite tune: sometimes it doesn’t make sense, yet you fully comprehend its meaning, mostly because you’re making up your own.

Just like all the legendary bands featured within, the designers of the book didn’t care about breaking a few rules. At times you’ll be squinting to read text irresponsibly placed over non-contrasting backgrounds or blinded by other busy layouts. It’s no coincidence that reading it will make you feel like you’ve just left a concert: your senses have been jolted, you’ll probably have a slight headache, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Enough about the creativity of the renegade design, what about the t-shirts?” asks you. It’s the best collection of vintage T-shirts I have ever seen. Like me, if you have obsessed about all things vintage t-shirts over the years, you probably think you have seen it all. Think again, Mr. Magoo. This book features shirts that you will likely never see for sale on eBay. There’s only a handful of tees in the book that I have had my hands on. And for the most part, the rest I didn’t even know existed. Before my time? Yeah, that’s my excuse, since all the tees featured are from the ’60s and ’70s. These shirts were born to the pre-mass-produced merchandising era that ran wild in the ’80s.

The sizes of the featured garments are a true indication of their age. Most of the shirts pictured could only be modeled by skinny men, petite women, and even a classroom of children. It was a time when our kids had yet to consume steroid-filled steaks, and we weren’t filling our bellies with too many burgers. A time when our rock stars and their fans were still skinny, which is also made evident by these subjects in the book’s great vintage photography.

Don’t worry, the book itself is very fat – more than 250 pages jam-packed with vintage t-shirt goodness.

I recommend adding this book to your collection or else stop calling yourself a vintage aficionado.

Buy it: Amazon / eBay

The Art of the Band T-Shirt

the art of the band t-shirtAuthors: Amber Easby has worked for bands such as the White Stripes and the Raconteurs as their merchandiser. Henry Oliver played in the band Die! Die! Die! and designed their album covers and T-shirts.

Published: 2007

Number of shirts inside: 100+

Buy it: Amazon / eBay

When it comes to vintage t-shirt books, this one screams KISS. No, I don’t mean it’s full of Gene Simmons merchandise; I mean, it keeps it simple, stupid. The fact that the book is only six by six inches is part of what makes this work – there’s no room for any B.S. And I agree with this approach; it’s a t-shirt, not the Mona Lisa. I don’t think it’s necessary to dissect every shirt like it’s an art history class. Not to say that one day some of this schwag shouldn’t appear in the Louvre, but let people a few centuries from now worry about that. Until that day, I see a vintage tee, I read the blurb, I flip the page, and I am happy.

If anyone is going to dissect the artwork and tell us what they were trying to tell us, it should be the designer or band. Well, in this book they do. It includes a handful of interesting blurbs that detail what they had up their sleeves: i.e. learn all about the Rolling Stones’ logo directly from the horse’s lips.

The intro to this one is tops among the vintage tee-related books I have in my possession. A well-scribed mental time-lapse of the origin of the t-shirt and its evolution into the band tee. Then we are treated to a few cool vintage photos of people wearing, you guessed it, tees.

Keep in mind the book doesn’t limit itself to strictly vintage, or original vintage at that. It does go beyond 2000 and has more than a few admitted reprints scattered throughout. There are plenty of Screen Stars, old Hanes, and completely worn tags in there for the vintage heads out there. While I would have preferred these pages to be vintage-oriented, the book doesn’t claim to be vintage-centric, just band-tee-obsessed. The latter part is still worth a look, and something tells me that 10 years from now I won’t be complaining about any of the shirts featured.

They’ve also got an excellent little history about the Fugazi t-shirt, that isn’t.

After writing this, I realize this book is as far from a KISS (the band) book as it can be, given that not a single KISS shirt appears in it. A little ironic, given that Simmons prides himself on being merchandise iconic. Are the authors sticking their tongues out at KISS? I say bonus points. I get enough of KISS merchandising when I’m flipping through channels and Family Jewels is on.

I fully recommend adding this book to your library.

Buy it: Amazon / eBay

Rock Tease: The Golden Years of Rock T-Shirts

rock tease the golden era of rock t-shirtsAuthors: Erica Easley graduated from Colombia University, worked at Warner Brothers, created ads at J. Walter Thompson, and devoted much of her life to being a clotheshorse. Ed Chalfa owns Portland’s largest and most celebrated resale shop, the Red Light Clothing Exchange. His collection of vintage rock t-shirts is worth over $30,000.

Published: 2006

Number of shirts inside: 200+

Buy it: Amazon / eBay

I admit the first thing I do when I pick up any vintage t-shirt book is furiously flip through it, taking in all the glorious photos, and this book was no exception. Over 200 of them, and plenty of amazing designs even the vintage aficionado has never seen before.

Spectacular t-shirts aside, I found this particular vintage t-shirt book to be the most conservatively written among the bunch. It reads somewhat like a school textbook or a university paper on the subject, which is kind of ironic given the creative subject matter, and, well, its eye-popping cover.

The introduction is long. Although it contains lots of great information, I labored through it, admittedly, my mind always wanders while reading. I was always tempted to skip forward and start gazing at the tees again, or even stare at the cover one more time. Some of the shirt analysis feels a little too interpretive, almost like the authors felt as though they had to come up with something insightful about every design. I’m pretty sure they put way more thought into some of these designs than the bootleggers did.

And if I had to waiver a guess, most of these comments were probably written more by Erica Easley than Ed Chalfa. Case in point – one of the comments written about an Iron Maiden tie-dye shirt refers to their mascot as a “tweaked corpse with guns ablaze”. While a very good point is made about Maiden tie-dyes, to Maiden fans, and most fans of vintage t-shirts, that “tweaked corpse” has a name. It’s Eddie and he’s the most iconic rock t-shirt mascot that has ever lived and is well deserving of a book of his own. Not knowing this is a little bit of a rock-tee faux pas, especially in a book devoted to the subject. Something tells me Ed Chalfa, possessing over $30,000 worth of rock shirts, and sharing the same name, is probably on a first-name basis with Eddie.

The book does feature the most impressive amount of bootleg designs of any of the books, which are just as much a part of rock tee history as the ones with copyrights on them. One of the bootlegs includes a shocking Ozzy Osbourne jersey with KKK imagery and a very good point is made regarding one of the downsides of bootlegging.

I recommend adding this book to your library.

Buy it: Amazon / eBay

Vintage T-Shirts (Classic Rock T-Shirts)

vintage t-shirtsAuthors: Lisa Kidner and Sam Knee are fashion retailers and designers, selling their clothes under the Heart of Glass and Upper Fifth labels. They sell authentic vintage t-shirts from stalls at London’s Portobello, Camden, and Spitalfields markets.

Published: 2006

Number of shirts inside: 500+

Buy it: Amazon / eBay

This book starts off with a great personal introduction to the authors, explaining how a pink shirt tickled their book-writing fancies. Then the introduction preemptively zips the lips of the nay-sayers. This tells me the authors know the goings-on in the minds of those passionate about vintage t’s. “Did you forget X purposely, and why is Y in here?!” are questions they need not answer. They’re well aware no book could be the be-all and end-all of vintage tees publications.

Humble introductions aside, this book is actually the closest any have come to the bible of vintage t-shirt books – mainly because it contains more than 500 tees, which doubles that of any book I have in my possession. Yes, they branch out to various genres, not just vintage band t-shirts, and that’s part of the beauty. Don’t worry, you’ll get your rock tee fix too. Their collection has the broadest coverage of musical styles – not just rock – which sets it aside from other books. If that’s music to your ears, then you’ll be happy to hear about the assortment of sought-after vintage t-shirt genres, like skateboard, surf, BMX, movie, and so on.

All of this content takes place over the course of 300+ nicely laid out pages featuring vintage photography, great interviews with collectors, and images of related memorabilia and advertising.

The only thing I do say nay to is their proposed battle between printing techniques, screen printing, and heat transfer. There really is no comparison; screen printing is better by far, and the top choice of collectors. Heat transfers that were created 20+ years ago are still kicking around in huge quantities, still going unsold in lots on eBay, and still waiting to be pressed on new shirts. Meanwhile, the ones that were actually put to use are now deteriorating, cracking, and fading beyond recognition. While there is a kitschy novelty factor to them, I would have preferred the few featured in this book to have been replaced by more of the excellent screen print selections.

I highly recommend adding this book to your collection.

The T-Shirt Book

the T-shirt BookAuthors: John Gordon and Alice Hiller

Published: 1988

Number of shirts inside: 300+

Buy it: Amazon / eBay

This book is the sleeper hit of the entire bunch and the perfect 1980s time capsule. It does a wonderful and very thorough job of showcasing 1980s tees, it doesn’t delve too much into anything prior, but the two older books below do a wonderful job in that area.

It’s by far the best read of the bunch, with about as much space devoted to words as t-shirts. That said, the selection of t-shits is amazing – you’ll be impressed. The authors clearly knew what was cool and immersed themselves in the world of t-shirts. It’s a touch UK/Euro-centric, there’s a lot of fifth Column shirts, though it doesn’t appear that they identify them as such. Artiste and Sentimental gets showcased thoroughly. A handful of Harley tees – but oddly, only one showing from 3D Emblem.

Surprisingly I have yet to spot a Mosquitohead tee, or anything from Don Rock or Bad Otis Link. Truthfully though, I’m taking my time reading this one and I keep spotting something new every time I flip through it. But the book is a product of the UK, and those tees were proud products of the U.S.

There’s a Woodstock staff tee being worn backward by a press agent who told the publishers of the book there were only ten made. We know this isn’t true.

The book details the history of the business, various global trends, indie t-shirt makers, and covers all the genres still popular today.

The Great American T-Shirt

The Great American T-Shirt BookAuthors: Ken Kneitel, Bill Maloney, and Andrea Quinn

Published: 1978

Number of shirts inside: 250

Buy it: Amazon / eBay

Don’t judge this one by its cover. It confused me because it actually looks like she’s wearing blazer and vest, but it’s a novelty t-shirt. Aside from that, this is a must own for 1970s heads. I was amazed at the sheer volume of tees I’ve never seen before. There’s a handful of celebrity cameos, and a ton of t-shirt relics. Photos are an interesting mix of black and white, and they’re all showcased on actual bodies. There’s even a little nudity, and a boob slip during a “How to put a t-shirt on,” performed by 1970s supermodel Anita Russell. There’s some other fun tutorials about designing and making your own tees, without screen printing, or how to dye a t-shirt. There’s even a great read about getting started in the t-shirt business according to five people who were actually doing it at the time.

That first Elvis tee – it’s in here. It’s also the first book to showcase t-shirt collectors proudly standing among their tees.

Given this was printed toward the end of the 1970s, it’s a better time capsule than the book below. If you HAD to choose between the two, go with this one. But you might not have much of a choice since T-Shirt Tripping is nearly impossible to find.

T-Shirt Tripping in the 70s (The Wash and Wear Canvas)

t-shirt tripping in the 1970s: the wash and wear canvasAuthors: Maurice Farge and Barry Rubin

Published: 1974

Number of shirts inside: 150+

Buy it: eBay

Given this was published in 1974, it may very well be the OG t-shirt book, as I have yet to find an older one. Sure, the t-shirts weren’t vintage at the time, but they are now. Everything in this book is at least 50 years old now. Wow.

T-Shirt Tripping was clearly ahead of its time. It features rock tees (Elvis, Zeppelin, Chicago and more) Movies (Deliverance) TV (Archie Bunker.) It also has “Stoned Tees” section that cover weed, beer, cocaine, and peyote. There’s a political tee section. There’s a full section with R. Crumb tees. There’s even a sex section with some naughty tees celebrating the era of free love.

And the coolest part? All of the tees are modeled on actual people, not a white background. Lots of 70s mustaches, long hair and beards. Bell bottom jeans and platform jeans were the standard uniform. Aside from the cover, all of the other pages are in black & white, but that only adds to it’s charm.

This one is tough to find, it was given to me by my dear friend Olivier who was a pioneer in the Toronto vintage clothing business in the 1970s. So set those eBay searches and hope for the best, because if you’re a 1970s tee-head, you need this in your collection immediately.

BTW, this is a product of Canada, Toronto specifically, my hometown. I’m going to try to track down the authors…

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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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