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The Vintage T-Shirt Market Is Booming. Here's Why

Old is gold.

vintage t shirt grateful dead
Grand Street Local

High summer calls for proper gear to keep you cool. Lightweight shorts, canvas sneakers or sandals, sunglasses, a shady hat and SPF-imbued moisturizer. The best t-shirt for the job, though, isn't a mint one, fresh out of the plastic wrap — it's vintage.

Tees that've already lived a life or two are just more comfortable. Gradually, the cotton fibers of a t-shirt will relax and break down with wear and washing. Repeat friction against the skin and in the wash slowly degrades the fibers until they break and become soft. That's why your oldest t-shirt is probably your most comfortable and it's the reason brands try to sell you a tee with a 'lived-in' or 'broken-in' or 'vintage' feel. They do this by putting their tees through the wash with chemicals and pumice stones (not great for the earth) to break down those fibers and make them softer.

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Because these well-loved tees have been put through the ringer, they're also often thinner. Sometimes even paper thin. Some might not consider that a good thing, but it's part of what makes vintage tees ideal for summer. There's less material and less weight in the t-shirt, allowing for better airflow to keep you cool.

If you're daring enough, some vintage tees will come with a few air vents (read: holes). Though, obviously this ain't for everyone. But, since designers constantly look to vintage garments for inspiration, it's no surprise that there are brand new hole-ridden tees you can buy for the same price as a rare vintage band tee.

white muscle tank
Satisfy Moth-eaten Muscle Tee
Courtesy Nordstrom

But those manufactured vintage-inspired tees lack the charm of a true vintage tee. Part of the allure of a vintage tee is its patina. That includes the holes and the softened texture of the fabric itself, but it's also the particular fade of the dye. Vintage tees that have been sun-faded or bleached in non-uniform ways often have higher price tags at boutiques or vintage stores for their unique character. If you're a fan of a well-faded pair of blue jeans, you should also be a fan of a sunbleached tee.

And don't forget about vintage graphic tees, too. Depending on how the graphic was printed, vintage graphic tees can patina in different ways that collectors find desirable. Many graphics can crack over time, adding another textural element to the t-shirt along with the cultural significance (or personal significance) to said graphic.

Vintage Misfits t-shirt
Courtesy Grand Street Local

They're also great for people who like unique garments. Every vintage tee has a story and is one-of-a-kind, so you won't have to worry about someone else having the same exact pristine t-shirt.

So, where do you get a vintage tee for yourself? These days, mostly online. Pore through eBay, Etsy and Instagram and you'll find endless supplies of the tastiest tees. Because they're online, you'll want to make sure to know your measurements to get the sizing right, especially since each piece is unique. And, like any other vintage hunting, it might take you a while to find the right one. But, that's part of the fun.

Etsy eBay

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