Learn how to spot, collect and care for vintage concert T-shirts

By Susan Sliwicki

Maybe you’ve taken the plunge and purchased a tour jacket at auction. Perhaps you’re debating whether that vintage concert T-shirt you’ve been eyeing on eBay is the real deal.

Either way, you probably have a few questions, and Jacques van Gool of Backstage Auctions is ready to help with answers to some of the most common topics related to vintage concert and artist apparel.

(RELATED ARTICLE: Backstage passes, concert T-shirts gain ground with collectors.)

Question: What’s the best way to care for and enjoy vintage T-shirts? Is the fabric fragile? Should you ever wash them, let alone wear them?

Hanes Beefy T cotton t-shirt

Vintage concert T-shirts tend to be made of higher-quality cotton than their modern counterparts, and as a result, they typically hold up well to washing and being worn, according to Jacques van Gool.

Answer: In my experience, the cotton quality from the ’70s and the early ’80s is much better than what it is today. I have seen 30-, 40-year-old shirts, used, that are in better condition than shirts that are 10 years old. In general, the quality of shirts was a lot better then than it is today. You can easily wash them or dry them. There’s no special care required.

Question: What factors should I consider if I want to archive a shirt?

Answer: The two most important ones: climate controlled and dry. As long as your fabric is not exposed to extreme temperatures, and more importantly is not exposed to moisture, be that humidity or anything else, you should be OK. Whether you fold them, whether you hang them, whether you bag them, whether you frame them — all is OK.

Ted Nugent vintage concert T-shirt

If you want to make sure your vibrantly colored vintage concert T-shirts stay that way, keep them out of direct light, advises Jacques van Gool of Backstage Auctions.

Although, if you intend on displaying the shirt, another rule comes into play: as long as it’s away from natural light. Shirts do fade with exposure to light, especially sunlight. If you do frame it, hang it on a wall that doesn’t get exposure [to] sunlight or a lamp shining right at the shirt; this may cause discoloration.

I have seen people who have all their shirts hanging in their closet. Some hang with a plastic cover over them, others have them folded and in a closet. Other people put them in bags, and that’s also to keep the dust out.

Question: How can bidders be sure they’re getting an authentic concert, venue, or tour T-shirt vs. a reproduction or a fake?

vintage t-shirt size

Unsure whether that vintage concert T-shirt measures up to its name? Get out a measuring tape. Vintage T-shirts tend to measure much smaller than modern ones. Photos courtesy Backstage Auctions.

Answer: It kind of differs from shirt to shirt. Obviously, there’re a lot of shirts that have been reproduced. The three big differences between an authentic shirt and reproduction shirt:

vintage vs. modern t-shirts

If you can’t tell a T-shirt’s age by its tag or its fabric, check the sizing. Modern concert T-shirts are sized larger than their vintage counterparts, according to Jacques van Gool of Backstage Auctions.

First, the dimensions of the reproduced shirt are different. In 99 out of 100 cases, those shirts are going to be bigger, because nobody reproduces a 1970s shirt in 1970s dimensions because they’re too small for today’s people.

Second, the tags. And that’s a hard one, because you would have to know the original manufacturer and those tags, but that information is most likely out there. There are obviously a lot of tags used today by companies that didn’t exist in the ’70s or ’80s. It’s very easy when you see a label or a tag to say, “Hold on here, that’s not a ’70s or ’80s tag.” The other thing in the last 10 years, most of the shirts that are being made are being made tagless. Up to the ’90s, every shirt came with a tag.

t-shirt tag

Tags can provide clues to a T-shirt’s age, especially since tagless T-shirts have become more common in the last 10 years. Backstage Auctions photo.

The last one, and this may sound a little weird: Use your nose. Aged fabric is very much the same as aged paper. You can smell the difference.

Of course that’s hard to do online. If you buy a shirt online and you’re not entirely convinced that this is an authentic shirt, at least resort to the first two: dimensions and research about the tag. GM


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