Vintage T-Shirts 101 - An eBay Buyer's Guide

Written By Arman Zulhajar on Saturday, June 2, 2012 | 4:26 AM

If you're looking for a specific and genuine vintage t-shirt, you probably aren't going to luck out at your local thrift store. Take my word for it - I was just there and grabbed all the good stuff. Besides, eBay makes it so much easier to get the exact shirt you want immediately. So now that you're serious about finding that authentic New Kids on the Block tee you've always wanted (seriously?), we've compiled an informative little lesson to help you along the way.


Use the search bar to find your item and go with the most basic search terms possible, such as "New Kids vintage t-shirt" If that initial search brings in too many results, you can narrow your focus by adding words like "NKOTB," "concert," or other related words.

Sometimes shirts are described in different ways. For example, a Led Zeppelin shirt could be listed as "vintage Zeppelin jersey" and wouldn't appear in your search results if you entered "Zeppelin vintage t-shirt " Go ahead - and enter each one of those queries and you'll see how they fetch different results. Remember that varying your search by leaving out the word "Led" may also increase your hits. Make sure to mix up your search terms as much as possible and be creative to broaden your search outcome.


If you find something you like, make sure the seller is reputable. You wouldn't buy a watch from some dude on a street corner wearing a trench coat, would you? Most eBay vendors don't specialize in vintage shirts sales; thus they may not grade their items accurately. Some sellers are fly-by-night reproduction operations while some luck out by raiding their granny's closet and find out she was a closet death metal fan. These dealers usually won't provide sizing data or photos of an item's brand or flaws.

Transactions with a seller like this can be hit and miss, too. Sometimes you'll receive an item that doesn't fit, is in poor condition, or is not a real vintage article. Always check out a seller's eBay rating and comments. If you see a bunch of buyers who have complained about receiving a fake item, one in poor shape or the wrong item, take those comments as a sign of a bad trend.

If the merchant is listed as a "power seller," it's an added bonus. This designation means the seller has a more consistent selection of products and maintains a 98% positive feedback rating. This rating is difficult to achieve if you aren't honest about the condition of your shirts, especially when it comes to vintage clothing.


Don't get us wrong - there are plenty of professional vintage outfitters to choose from on eBay. With these organizations, the guideline is: what you see is what you'll get. Most have a strict policy of not dealing in reproductions or fakes. (Repros and fakes make us genuine vendors angry... Almost as angry as Axl Rose was when some fan threw a water bottle at him during a G 'N R concert.)

Honest sellers take the time to accurately photograph and grade their vintage t-shirts. They also provide measurements so you can compare them to an article of clothing you already own. It's not a good idea to "eyeball" your size, since each t-shirt seller has a slightly different method of determining sizes. To make it more confusing, in general, a vintage large is a medium by today's standards. In other words, always compare chest and length measurements to ensure the item will fit. Most sellers won't accept returns due to sizing issues. And if they do, you'll most likely lose out on the shipping fees and wasted time.

Understand that you are purchasing a "vintage" shirt which has been worn to different degrees. That is, unless the item is listed as "new old stock" (NOS) or "deadstock." If the shirt is NOS, it has not been washed, so factor in slight fabric shrinkage when measuring. New old stock usually exists as a result of a retailer who stored away the clothing decades ago because it wasn't selling. However, also be aware that some counterfeiters are claiming their repros are new old stock to justify being in mint shape. In this case be extra cautious in making sure it's a true vintage brand. When you receive the shirt make sure its the exact brand pictured in the auction as some sellers are pulling the ol' switch-a-roo.

Always check the sellers past auctions to find out if they keep listing the same questionable items over and over. This can be done by selecting "list" on the right hand side of the specific sellers auction page where it reads, "View Sellers Other Items". After it fetches their current inventory - along the left hand side within the yellow "Search Options" area check mark, "completed items" then click, "show items".

Also get to know your favorite seller's grading terms. View several of their items and take note of how products are listed using different descriptions, such as, "mint," "excellent," "good" or "poor." In the same way sizing can vary, some vendors have their own grading system.


Reading this guide is an essential step in learning to "say no to repro." Making sure your item is genuine is tricky sometimes, since listings can be misleading.

The recent surge of counterfeit vintage shirts on eBay breaks our hearts. Some of these operations sell very convincing fakes (we're actually amazed) as well as genuine pieces. Others print new designs on plain vintage shirts. Many of these dealers buy repros in bulk - so you'll notice multiple sellers carrying many of the exact same prints. With all these creative and sneaky techniques, it's become even trickier to get the real deal.

Often, the listings will not display the tag - it will be removed, or look like an uncommon, yet vintage-esque brand, ie. "Mahagamage." It's gotten so out-of-hand that designs originally printed on only one colour of shirt are starting to appear in an array of other colours. If Bill and Ted were to chime-in now, you can bet they'd say, "Bogus!"

If the written details and photos in the listing are scarce and non-descriptive, do your research. Keep in mind some listings misuse "vintage" as a keyword to generate exposure for other items. Look for sharp close-ups of copyright printing and date subscripts. Consider the actual look of the printing, as many reproductions use just one color. Also inspect the quality of the printing - watch for inaccurately sized, wrongly placed, poorly coloured or pixelized prints.

If you understand the screen printing process you'll spot the knock-offs more easily. Screen-printed items are made in stages, with each colour printed separately. So when a shirt has a 5-colour design, it's passed under 5 different screens to add the appropriate colour to the specific locations on the fabric. Think of it like a jig-saw puzzle, where each colour is a separate piece, and when put together, makes up the total design.

What does this analogy tell us about identifying fakes? First off, most counterfeiters don't have the original image to work with, so they scan a copy of it. The integrity of the design is compromised because colours and fine lines aren't matched properly. Sometimes entire colours or details are omitted if it's too difficult to pick up or used very little in the original design.

Given these indications of forgery, the example below shows a comparison between an authentic design and a forgery, with close-ups of their subscripts. Notice how the copyright symbol is missing from the fake. When compared side by side, it's obvious to see which is which. On their own, though, it's less apparent which is the repro. Do comparative shopping.

Also factor in the shirt's material. A lot of vintage shirts are made of a 50/50 poly-cotton blend, while the 100% cotton blends are a more recent trend.

Get to know your vintage shirt brands by the tags. This labeling is a great indicator because many of these companies are no longer in production. Names like Screen Stars, Springford, Sportswear, Touch of Gold and Ched are good examples of genuine tag names. Hanes, while still in production, has seen different phases of labels over time which can easily be identified with a particular era.

If all else fails, politely ask the seller if an article is genuine vintage, as this factor is an important element in deciding on a purchase. When confronted with a question of this nature, merchants will probably respond with their honest opinion.

Additional information:
Vintage T-Shirts

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