What is a vintage t-shirt?


What is a vintage t-shirt?

Vintage fashion is one of the fastest growing trends in fashion right now! A perfect storm has brewed. Fashionistas are now enamoured with the opportunity to express their individual style and combined this with a growing desire to shop more sustainably. But the vintage fashion movement is still young, and from one country to the next vintage trends vary massively.

The UK and Europe is obsessed with branded vintage clothing from popular designers and sportswear manufacturers such as Ralph Lauren, Nike etc. In North America vintage fashion puts less emphasis on brand and more on rarity. In Japan and East Asia vintage streetwear is very desirable. But if theirs one thread that connects the global vintage fashion scene, it’s the adoration of the classic vintage t-shirt. From iconic 70s gig tees from bands like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones to 90s sportswear tees such as Nike’s collaborations with Michael Jordan, the vintage t-shirt is universally adored. But what exactly is a vintage t-shirt? What makes it vintage and how do they differ to t-shirts made today?

Whilst it’s pretty clear what makes a t-shirt a t-shirt, what is less clear is what makes a vintage t-shirt vintage. Some people would tie vintage to a time period and might say that any t-shirt that’s 15 years or older is vintage. Others would say that a vintage t-shirt is one that can be identified by its tag, the fabric blend, and the manufacturing method.

Over the last century the t-shirt has transformed from being an undergarment to a key part of every person’s wardrobe. Famous actors like James Dean and Marlon Brando helped popularise the t-shirt as more than just lightweight apparel for workers. The quickly rising popularity of the t-shirt coincided with an explosion in pop culture in the 60s and 70s. Music artists and bands grabbed at the opportunity to express themselves through fashion creating t-shirts that became an extra revenue stream. Throughout the 80s other facets of pop culture jumped on this trend with movies, sports teams and other globally recognised brands treating the t-shirt as the ultimate wearable billboard.

How to tell if a t-shirt is vintage

With the quickly rising popularity of vintage t-shirts, more and more of us want to know how we can spot one. Fortunately, there are several tell-tale signs that can help you identify a t-shirt as vintage.

How to tell if a t-shirt is vintage by the design

Single stitch

In the vintage community, single stitch is the gold standard of vintage t-shirts. Prior to the 90s, mass manufacturing of t-shirts used methods that left a single row of stitching at the hems. Since then double stitch methods have been implemented because they are often a lot more secure and sturdy. This means that a t-shirt that was made using single stitch manufacturing methods is almost guaranteed to be vintage.

Fabric materials

It’s difficult to pin down exactly when certain fabrics were used to create t-shirts, but some general rules can be observed to help narrow down what decade a t-shirt is from. T-shirts from the 70s were nearly all made using 100% thick cotton. T-shirts from the 80s were slightly thinner and more lightweight due to using a 50/50 cotton polyester blend. Then as the 90s rolled around most manufacturers reverted to 100% cotton.

Print design

Many t-shirts that are made for bands, movies and tv shows have the year of production printed on to the design. This is particularly the case for brands that create blank t-shirts to be printed on such as Hanes, Jerzees, Screen Stars, Gildan, Oneita and others.

How to tell if a t-shirt is vintage from the tags

Identifying a t-shirt as vintage from the tags can be very difficult as there are thousands of different brands, all of which have used dozens of different tags over the years. In recent years, many brands have began printing the information on the inside of the neck instead of using neck tags. So any t-shirts with that can be discounted as vintage right out of the gates.

Here’s a collage of some of the main vintage t-shirt tags, and whilst this is far from exhaustive, it’s a great guide that can be used to train yourself in the art of vintage t-shirt.

vintage t-shirt tags


So there you have it, a vintage t-shirt is generally a t-shirt that is 15 years or older and can be identified either by the design or tags.


  • Posted on by Kate

    I love finding vintage tshirts. I don’t wear them with logos or pictures often but I do look for clean plain ones. I especially love finding the original 80’s and 90’s bright colors!

  • Posted on by Kelly P.

    A friend of mine has gotten me into vintage collections. I love clothing from the ‘80s and ‘90s specifically! It is amazing to look back at the styles from those decades. From the colour choices to the washed and ripped fabrics. I love it all! This was actually helpful for me since I am fairly new to collecting these items. I look forward to adding to my growing collection this year!

  • Posted on by Jasmine Hewitt
    A wave of nostalgia washes over me as I look at that collection of vintage t shirt tags

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