A GUIDE TO BUYING VINTAGE T-SHIRTS

GLOSSARY OF VINTAGE T-SHIRT TERMS

50/50 or FIFTY-FIFTY: This describes t-shirts made from a blend of equal parts cotton and polyester. They’re not uncommonI find 50/50 t-shirts more commonly than 100% cotton ones–but it’s often used in listings and so worth knowing.

DEADSTOCK: Deadstock refers to a t-shirt in new and unworn condition. Among vintage items, deadstock t-shirts are relatively common. Chances are they sat untouched in a screen-printers inventory for decades before being donated or sold.

Because they were not often individually tagged or packaged, determining whether a piece is deadstock requires some sleuthing:

  • Smooth seams: On a shirt that has been washed, the seams will often cinch up, creating a bit of a ripple at the hem, neck, and shoulders.
  • Crisp tag: The tags on many vintage t-shirts are made of a stiff, papery material. These tags degrade quickly after washing.
  • Found in bulk: If you find 7 or 70 identical t-shirts together, it’s likely that they’re unworn. Printers often liquidate inventory in lots rather than as individual pieces.

MOUNTED COLLAR: A mounted collar is sewn onto the top of the t-shirt, rather than sewn under the fabric. In my experience, mounted collars hold their shape better than sewn-under ones.

An older vintage t-shirt–from the 1960s, for example–is more likely to have a mounted collar than one from the 1980s or 1990s. So, do a double check if you see one in the wild. Of course, Russell Athletic still mounts collars in 2018.

SCREEN PRINTED: In screen printing, an inky medium is pressed through a screen and onto the t-shirt. Because the process requires a moderately laborious set up, many vintage screen printed t-shirts–especially those from small events or local institutions–feature only one or two colors.

THRASHED: Thrashed is the go-to term to describe a shirt that’s heavily worn but still wearable. The fabric will be thin, there may be holes and tears, and there may be stains. I don’t have any thrashed t-shirts in my collection, but the screen capture below illustrates the concept:

Generally, the damage is from frequent washing and wear: Discolored collars, holes at the shoulders, and frayed hems are common. Natural fading and repairs are often desired. A giant wine stain on the front does not contribute to thrashiness.

TRI-BLEND: Tri-blend refers to vintage t-shirts made from from cotton, polyester, and rayon fabric.  These t-shirts are desirable for their rarity, softness and durability. The yarns are often heathered, giving the fabric a unique, variegated look.

FINAL THOUGHTS

At once ubiquitous and unique, t-shirts are great gateway to the world of vintage clothing. They offer styles and stories and fits as various their owners. I’m hoping this guide can help you take the leap.

If you want to learn more about the world of vintage t-shirt collecting, I recommend exploring our T-shirt store for a wide collection.  There’s a lot of awesome, timeless content there.

But if you need further incentive, please know that the global t-shirt economy is one of the most wasteful and exploitative on Earth. Buying used t-shirts helps, in a tiny but meaningful way, to counter emissions, improper chemical disposal, and human exploitation, not to mention the literal waste of discarded t-shirts.

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