10 Tricks for Finding the Best Vintage Band Tees

Here's what to look for and where to shop.

Most Popular

If you're new to collecting vintage, gather some references. Steve Coe of Worn Free—an online shop that sells both licensed band tee reproductions and real-deal vintage—recommends checking out the My Freedamn! series by photographer and fashion historian Rin Tanaka. The books delve deep into American subcultures (surfers, skaters, bikers) and meticulously chronicle their uniforms—from motorcycle jackets to bowling jerseys. Memorize those photos because you're going to want to remember what lived-in, stretched-out, vintage tees actually look like when you start shopping.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Map Out Your Local Retirement Communities

Kurt Cobain helped popularize Daniel Johnston's music, just by wearing his T-shirt everywhere.
Most Popular

Seriously. "There are some great thrift stores in Waikiki. You can fill up a trash bag for $20," Coe says. "If you think about Hawaii, a lot of people go there to retire, so they're selling things that they've had for years and years—lots of tees, lots of sportswear, lots of gold. It's the same in Miami and other parts of Florida. Think about the area you're in."

Get Hands On

Joan Jett, wearing a Ramones T-shirt the only logical way—under a leather jacket.

When it comes to separating the real vintage tees from the fakes, it's all about texture. Feel the fabric: modern tees are much thicker than their '70s and '80s counterparts.

Look for 50/50

Evan Dando of the Lemonheads rocking a Gram Parsons T-shirt.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Vintage T-shirt pros always look for thin fabric that's 50 percent cotton, 50 percent poly—it's the holy grail, in terms of softness, and it sits well on the body. Plus, a 50/50 T-shirt is more likely to be authentic, since the 100 percent cotton trend didn't really take off until the '90s.

You Want Some Fadeaway

Patti Smith and Keith Richards, Patron Saints of Gloriously Shaggy Hair.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Look out for new graphics on older shirts. Some sellers will buy plain vintage tees, screen print band logos on them, and try to pass them off as authentic. The wear on the T-shirt should match the wear on the design, and fadeaway is normal.

Check Your Labels

Most Popular

Labels like Screen Stars, Anvil, Springford, Fantasy, Sportswear, and Touch of Gold are good indicators of age, because they went out of production in the '90s. T-shirt mega-brands Hanes and Fruit of the Loom have gone through a few different label designs: a quick Google search should be able to give you an idea of when your shirt was made.

Don't Sweat Imperfections

Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant in a custom Runaways T-shirt.

You want an Iron Maiden tee to look like it's gone through two or three decades of hard partying. When you're shopping for vintage concert tees, don't be put off by things like loose necklines, tiny rips, paint splatters, or cut-off sleeves—these are all details that designers try to replicate.

Don't Trust Vintage Sizes

The Beastie Boys' Ad-Rock, in a Cypress Hill T-shirt.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

A 1976 medium and a 2016 medium are not the same thing. If you're shopping IRL, make sure to try that T-shirt on. And if you're dealing with an online seller, ask them for specific measurements—not just the size on the label.

And Don't Overpay

'90s Beck, wearing a Merle Haggard T-shirt.

Maybe that Sade T-shirt sells for $300 in a trendy vintage boutique, but it could be hiding out for half the price in someone's Etsy store. Check eBay's completed auctions to see what vintage tees from your favorite bands have sold for recently, and do some comparison shopping between online and IRL shops.

If You Go the eBay Route…

Sammy Davis Jr., taking the stage in his Beatles T-shirt.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Beware of sellers who have sold multiple copies of the same T-shirt. And look out for the term "new old stock"—it's used to describe authentic vintage tees that have never been worn (aka overstock that was put into storage). Actual new old stock is super-rare, and, sadly, most sellers who claim to have a stash of it are just passing off reproductions as the real deal.

Where to Shop IRL

Afterlife Boutique, San Francisco

'70s Vintage New York Dolls Original T-Shirt, $400, afterlifeboutiqe.com.
Most Popular

OK, the rarities on Afterlife's site are pricey, but the Mission District boutique is also home to loads of under-$100 concert tees, which run the musical gamut from Siouxsie and the Banshees to New Kids on the Block. And, this being San Francisco, the place is also a treasure trove of vintage Grateful Dead tees.

Procell, New York City

Selena forever, at New York City's Procell.

This Lower East Side shop is a go-to for '90s and early 2000s rap, hip-hop, and R&B merch (with the occasional Sonic Youth or Dinosaur Jr. T-shirt thrown in the mix), which owner Brian Procell sources from all over—from church basement sales to Japanese thrift stores. Keep up with his latest finds on Instagram @procell.

Fruition Vintage, Las Vegas

Vintage tees from the Fruition vault.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Fruition is out to prove that there's more to the Vegas shopping scene than luxury boutiques (although the store does have an impressive collection of vintage Louis Vuitton). Here you'll find a mix of vintage concert tees and retro sportswear from brands like Fila, Adidas, and Champion.

Where to Shop Online

Tyranny and Mutation, tyrannyandmutation.com

1989 The Cure Primary Way Rare T-Shirt, $250, tyrannyandmutation.com.

If you're after a rare T-shirt and you have cash to burn, this is the place. The Seattle-based online shop carries impossible-to-find merch—from Wu-Tang Clan and Public Enemy to The Smiths and Joy Division.

Chapel, shopchapel.com

A Tribe Called Quest Midnight Marauders '90s Distressed Black T-Shirt, $800, shopchapel.com.

We're firmly in fantasy-shopping territory now, but we had to include this online shop from Alessandra Brawn—the woman who procures vintage band merch for Rihanna, Kanye West, and A$AP Rocky.

VTGdallas, etsy.com/shop/VTGdallas

1995 Boyz II Men Concert Tour T-Shirt, $300, etsy.com.

There's no shortage of vintage shops on Etsy, but VTGdallas is a good place to start. The store's heart is firmly planted in the '90s (if you missed your chance to buy a Jewel tour T-shirt in middle school, the time is now) and doesn't shy away from boy bands, pop-punk, or Céline Dion "My Heart Will Go On" tribute tees.

More from sweet: