Vintage T-Shirts 101: eBay Buyer’s Guide.
Vintage T-Shirts 102: Avoid Reproductions.
Vintage T-Shirts 104: Spot a Fake.
As outlined in our two previous vintage t-shirts guides, the single best way to determine if a shirt is truly vintage is by checking its label. Since these lines are no longer in production or have updated their branding, inspecting a vintage shirt tag can tell you a lot about an item’s authenticity and the era in which it was produced. You can also factor in a shirt’s blend of fabrics; in terms of vintage brands a 50/50 polyester-cotton blend was far more common in the 1980s than the 100% cotton trend prior and beyond the decade.
Tees from the 70s will more often be 100% cotton. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that 50/50 tees became the norm. If the tag features branding it’s likely a simple design and one color. Many of these labels will appear fairly generic and not have any obvious link to a specific company aside from an RN number. A lot of the time the tag will be completely blank or frayed as a result of wear, wash, and age. It wasn’t until the late ‘70s that the big t-shirt players and stronger branding images started to emerge.
Many popular brands emerged in this decade. Some focused on producing a variety of colors, while others specialized in making different styles of shirts, including ringers and jerseys. Brands such as Screen Stars, Hanes and Sportswear were some of the most widely manufactured t-shirts. Each of these vintage brands went through different phases of label designs which can easily be linked to a particular period. The branding became more obvious and the tags often had two color designs.
Some brands were produced in Pakistan, others began following Champion and manufactured tees for sports-related purposes. Labels such as Logo7, Artex, and Trench made many of the best t-shirts, jerseys and sweatshirts featuring popular athletic names, teams and styles in the 1980s.
While many new big-name players emerged in the ‘90s, just as many faded away. Some companies merged together – for example, Screen Stars would slowly morph into “Best” by Fruit of the Loom. Music and concert merchandising became an even bigger business and had dedicated licensing brands like Brockum, Giant, and Gem. Some of these companies didn’t actually manufacture t-shirts so they had their labels sewn into other blanks produced by FOTL and Hanes. In this era, there was a trend back toward 100% cotton. Tags with two-color designs were the norm. Woven tags started to become more common.
How Can You Tell If a T-Shirt Tag is True Vintage?
Remember: just because you don’t see a brand listed here, that doesn’t mean the item in question isn’t vintage. There are just too many companies from these decades to display them all. We have streamlined our guide to present some of the most commonly occurring brands in their various forms.
Consider the blend of the fabric.
Is it 100% cotton? That was a trend of the 1970s and 1990s. 50/50 tees were far more common in the 1980s.
Consider the design of the tag.
Is it a generic, one-color design? Or is there more elaborate branding and a two-color design?
Consider the design on the t-shirt and copyright.
If there’s a subscript below the design with a date it could be a hint, heads-up though – sometimes retro t-shirts put older dates on purpose or use original copyright dates.
Consider the measurements of the shirt.
Aa XL from the 90s is far bigger than an 80s XL. Tees from the 70s are quite small by today’s standards.
- Check out our BrandPedia for more specific brand info.