Valuing a Rare Vintage T Shirt

The vintage pop-culture t shirt market has exploded in recent years, with certified A-list stars such as Kanye West and Justin Bieber increasingly seen out and about rocking 1970s originals. This uptake by popular ‘influencers’ has led to a resurgence in the general market too – a 1979 Led Zeppelin at Knebworth gig t-shirt sold for $10,000 earlier this year. The original Run DMC x Adidas t-shirt collaboration from 1983 is currently on sale for $13,000 too, but even more run of the mill editions can still fetch upwards of hundreds of pounds.

Valuing a Rare Vintage T Shirt
Valuing a Rare Vintage T Shirt

So how do you know if the back of your wardrobe is holding any gold dusted t shirts from back in the day? Well there’s a few key things to look out for that we can help you run through.

Age

First of all, to be vintage it has to be old. That’s 15-plus years according to most of the biggest names in the T-shirt reselling game. As a rule, taking condition into account, older tees are usually more valuable. The oldest you’ll find are 1960s, as part of the value comes from their pop culture associations. Before the ‘60s such kinds of logo-based or branded clothing didn’t really exist.

Condition

You could have this Nirvana crew tour tee from 1993 – but if it’s full of holes, mothballed and stained then it won’t be worth much at all.

T-shirt conditions are usually graded on following scales:

  • Mint: Perfect condition, never taken out of the packaging with original tags etc.
  • Near Mint
  • Good
  • Acceptable
  • Poor

As t-shirts are designed to be worn, the value doesn’t appreciate from Mint to Near Mint or Good as much as some other collectables do. However, a still packaged original from the 70s will still be worth appreciably more to some specific collectors.

Topic or Brand

Exclusive tees tend to be the most valuable. What we mean by this is pieces that were designed for a specific event such as a concert tour, comedy gig or media premiere. We’ve been focusing on music tees so far, as these are often the most popular on the market at the moment. However, rare pop-culture tees from other fields such as technology or television are also sometimes worth money. For example, early 90s Apple or Microsoft tees are highly desired on vintage markets right now.

Topic or Brand
Topic or Brand

Very old or limited-run tees from the early days of famous designers are also valuable, such as the Ralph Lauren Polo tee they made for the American Tennis Open in 1983. This is worth about $200 itself in Good condition.

Design

The ultimate proof of Karl Marx’s theory of commodity and use value in action has always been expensive and rare clothes. It’s not always the design, the look or even the practical wearing of the t-shirt that’s the most important factor in determining value. However, it is still a consideration. The most fashionable (often over the top when it comes to vintage t shirts) designs will be worth more than inherently ugly pieces – although rarity, age and condition will usually top design in the value stakes.

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