How to Tell if a T-Shirt is Actually Vintage

Okay, so let’s get this straight. No one out there wants to get fooled into buying overpriced clothing that is not authentic.

As a vintage clothing fanatic, I have made a few mistakes that led me to buy t-shirts that were a complete disappointment. Yes, it was in my beginner days, and I wasn’t as wise as I am now. 

If you never want to end up in this situation, let me show you how to tell the difference between real vintage t-shirts and fake reproductions and replicas.

How did the original t-shirt trend begin?

The way fashion works has always fascinated me.

You have these fashion trends that pop out of nowhere, disappear for a couple of years, and then BOOM! They make a spectacular comeback, and everyone is obsessing over them again.

This is precisely what happened with vintage t-shirts and more generally vintage clothing.

But when did this trend start exactly?

Well, around the 50s and 60s, to be exact. Then, famous actors such as James Dean and Marlon Brando would start wearing plain T-shirts not as undergarments but as fashion.

But this would just be the beginning of this fashion trend.

During the 60s, people started screen printing on T-shirts, usually for an advertisement of some sort. Eventually, concert t-shirts were born.

And then vintage t-shirts were everywhere!

They allowed people to express their admiration for a music band or an artist they were fans of. At the end of the 80s, these kinds of T-shirts were so mass-produced that they would be found at any thrift store for a super low price.

Mass production and low prices eventually led this fashion trend to vanish in the early 2000s.

But now, these vintage t-shirts are all the hype again.

Celebrities like Kendall Jenner, Drake, and Kanye West, all the way up to college students, are regularly seen wearing these vintage pieces from time to time.

Now, this is where bad actors starting to create a black market of fake vintage items.

But also, the big box brands wanted to take advantage of this fashion trend being at an all time high, so they started selling vintage style aka replica vintage t-shirts. 

What's the difference between true vintage and fake vintage?

There’s a fine line between the two. Sometimes, you can’t tell them apart!

The main difference is age. For something to be considered “true vintage,” it has to be at least 20 years old. Anything younger than that is considered “vintage-inspired.”

True Vintage can be Significantly More Expensive than Replicas

Because of its age, genuine vintage tends to be more expensive than “vintage-inspired” items. The older a piece is, the harder it is to find, and therefore the more likely its price will go up. So, if you really want an authentic vintage piece, you may have to fork over some extra cash for it.

The main things you should be checking when determining if an item is true vintage are the tag, stitching, and year!

What does a vintage clothing tag look like?

This is the first thing I do whenever I find out a piece that grabs my attention. The tags on vintage t-shirts are unique and can be pretty easily recognized.

Screen Stars, Stedman, 3D Emblem, Nutmeg, and Logo 7 are some of the most common t-shirt brands that were used as blanks for screen printing. Then you have vintage branded clothing tags such as Nike, Russell Athletic, Adidas, and Champion.

Of course, there are hundreds more that I can mention, but a tip that will save you time and figure out the authenticity of the clothing is by doing a quick google search on the t-shirt’s tag’s history.

Keep in mind many modern t-shirts don’t even have tags, as they have the sizing and other information printed onto the back of the collar. 

But what if the shirt has no tag?

Since vintage clothes have been around for a while, their tag is sometimes missing or cutoff. But that doesn’t mean that they are always authentic. 

There are plenty of scammy boutiques out there that cut out the tags of fake vintage t-shirts to hide that they are not authentic.

But don’t worry! There is still hope in finding if a vintage piece is authentic or not.

This brings us to the next tip…

Checking Stitching is a Helpful Hint in Determining the Age of a T-Shirt 

Until the mid-’90s, factories constructed t-shirts with a single stitch in the sleeves instead of two or more stitches that you see with modern tees.

You can see the single stitching on the end of the t-shirt sleeve.

Now, there are a few modern companies that have resurrected this old construction style, which they call “vintage.”

Red Single Stitch T Shirt Sleeve

Check The Year of the Printed Graphic

One way to tell the difference between true vintage and fake vintage is to check for a date on the graphic design on the garment.

Look at when the style of the piece was originally produced.

For example, shirts from the 80s had big, bold logos on the front with block letters and no outline around the name. The ones from this decade are much simpler and cleaner looking with thin fonts and light outlines.

90s T Shirt Copy Right

Don’t be fooled by cheap imitations

 You want to spend your hard-earned dollars on something authentic! Part of what makes vintage tees so special is their age. The older the-shirt, the rarer, thus the more expensive. This makes them more valuable in terms of uniqueness—you won’t run into many people wearing the same shirt as you!