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5 Tips for finding AUTHENTIC vintage t-shirts

The first thing you’ll learn about me is probably that I love Texas (we’re a proud people).  The next thing you’ll learn is that I love all things vintage. True vintage, not late 90s vintage. Quite possibly, my absolute favorite vintage item is t-shirts.  Those shirts so paper thin, so soft, so lived-in, and featuring graphics like Barry Manilow with a beagle (yep, that’s in my closet).

vintage t-shirt, barry manilow

One thing that draws me to vintage anything is the thrill of the hunt. You literally never know when, where, or how you will find that next treasure. Goodwill hunting. Flea markets. Garage sales across the street. Tiny local shops. A random vendor on the street. Online. Possibilities are so endless!

So how do you know you’re getting authentic vintage and not a modern take on vintage?  Most of the time, you’ll just know. In those instances where you are unsure, these 5 tips will help.

1. Check out the tags.

Popular Screen Stars tag
  • Screen Stars- often called the granddaddy of them all. Widely used in the 1970-80s. Very widely circulated and trusted vintage brand.
  • Sportswear- not much is known on the brand, but they were popular in the 60s-90s and heavily circulated.
  • Blank tags or worn tags may mean the shirt is from the early 70s or even before that. Many did not start branding on their tags until the late 70s.
  • Check out this BrandPedia for a super comprehensive guide to brands and what you should look for. It’s pretty interesting, even if you aren’t a vintage t-shirt nerd like me.

2. Leave no store unturned.

  • Thrift store personnel will come to know you by name. Talk to them, ask them when new stuff hits the floor. Be prepared to go there frequently and sift through kids tees on up to adults as some vintage fits are smaller than modern day fits.
  • VIntage clothes shops may be few and far between in some areas, but they are worth the trip if you are ever near one. I have found my best t-shirts at these specialized local shops. They have the eye and you won’t have to sift through any modern tees.
  • Clothing mills, also known as rag houses, are fairly difficult to track down. You can search your area by googling importers, exporters, second hand, or clothing graders. If you do happen to find a mill, get in contact to see if they will even allow you in. If they do, be prepared to dig!

3. Flea Markets are your friend.

  • Depending on where you live, a simple online search for flea markets will yield many results. Some are weekly, others monthly, some depend on the weather.  Talk to dealers and become friends with them. If they know what you’re looking for, they may just give you first dibs.
  • On the road?  Plan your trip in advance and hit up any flea markets along the way. Small town, roadside flea markets sometimes hide some serious treasures. That Manilow tee up there.. roadside find.

4. Online shop for the win.

  • The con to shopping online is that you can’t physically touch your t-shirt. I have gotten burned a couple of times with a shirt that wasn’t truly vintage, but I liked the graphics so it wasn’t a total loss. Do your research and find trusted brands that sell authentic. www.defunkd.com is seriously the greatest resource and they sell tees there too.
  • I have found a few treasures on etsy, goodwill online (yes that’s a thing), and recently Auction Zip. You can find huge lots for reasonable prices, and many times vendors do not know their worth or simply just want to make a quick sale. SkippyHaha is a great shop on etsy, and they use unique models to showcase their shirts.
  • eBay is a great place to shop for vintage t-shirts but you have to be smart. Anyone can claim that a tee is vintage. I only shop a few trusted brands on eBay so that I know what I’m getting. A few great shops to get you started are timetravelteeswax_and_threads, and tshirttimemachine. Also, there are some great lots to be found on eBay.

5. Be persistent, be consistent.

  • If you’re shopping online, bookmark your favorites and check them often. Good tees will go quickly.
  • If you’re shopping locally, be prepared to call or pop in often. You may want to take notes on when the new stock hits the floor so that you can be there when they put out the “new” old tees.
  • Keep note of flea market schedules and make garage/estate sales part of your weekend routine. Always have some cash on hand in case you come across a good sale!
  • Most of all, enjoy the thrill of the hunt and celebrate those t-shirt wins.

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