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Vintage Graphic T-Shirts Can Be Converted into Thrift Store Gold

by Bryan Goodman and Jason T. Smith (08/27/12).

All Hard Rock Cafe Shirts sell, but ones from special occasions like this 25th Anniversary from London or the more the exotic the location will command more money. Found this at a thrift store for $2 and sold on eBay for $28

James Dean, The Fonz and Simon Cowell are all iconic T-shirt wearers. However, they only wore plain, white Tees. Short of finding their actual shirts, plain T-shirts rarely command a lot of money. However, some T-shirts with images or graphics have value for a variety of reasons and can possibly bring a good return.

Some of these rare shirts may be quite desirable by collectors, while others may just have value based on the whimsical desires of a buyer looking for an unusual T-shirt as way to honor a particular subject, such as musicians, hobbies or movies.

We have taught many people to navigate a thrift store. The first section we always go is the men’s T-shirts. It is the easiest place to start teaching thrift store skills. Buying T-shirts for resale is a pretty cut and dry situation. Part of our teaching method is to have them go through a rack to pull shirts that they deem worthy. After they finish, we go back and pull great shirts they may have missed. They tell us the reason they selected their T-shirts. We then give approval of their finds and explain the mistakes they made.

One thing that often comes up for people new to sourcing T-shirts is they shop emotionally. They personally don’t like the graphic or the color or the cut of the shirt, so they pass. But that is the wrong approach. When we look at T-shirts, we only see dollar signs and key words. A shirt has to have good keywords in order for a buyer to find it. If you can’t describe it, don’t buy it. When looking through the T-shirts rack, brand is not as big of deal as it would be in button down shirts. Most T-shirts are made by the same six companies. What is important is the graphic or subject of the shirt: things like Rock ‘n’ Roll shirts, Harley Davidson shirts, Christmas shirts, Alcohol shirts, Movie shirts and the Hard Rock Cafe.

If you’ve never bought T-shirts, you’d be surprised how much they can sell for and just how many you can sell. Our average T-shirt purchase price is $2.50 and our average sale price is $25. After fees, you can pocket around $20. We sell a hundred T-shirts a month and it is easy money. T-shirts are easy to photograph, easy to list and super-duper easy to ship because they don’t break in transit. You don’t need bubble wrap or packing peanuts or even a box. A poly envelope will work just fine. We have also sold T-shirts in the $100-$200 range. Not name-brand, high-end shirts, but something like a 1980s Prince shirt.

James Dean

The Fonz

Simon Cowell

Since we can’t take everyone thrifting (though we would like to do that), we thought we’d give you a primer in T-shirt buying. We always start in the big boys section and work back to the small sizes for two reasons: 1) We are big guys and larger shirts sell faster than the smaller sizes. Our 2XL, 3XL and bigger shirts inventory is always in demand, whereas our medium shelf is always full. 2) Big boys don’t have the same choices as average sized guys, so they are happy to buy from you.

First thing to look for is the graphic on the T-shirt. The image should grab you and quickly reveal keywords that will be easy to translate into a good title for your listing. The shirt should also feature subject matter that might not be easy to find in your average retailer or online. For example, an old shirt of a defunct airline might be an easier sell than a newer generic Coca-Cola T-shirt. When an item is unusual or rare, the desirability typically increases.

A vintage yet very faded Nirvana non-concert shirt. Paid $1, sold for $60.

Some shirts to stay away from include, but are not limited to:

1. Plain white T-shirts (unless the Fonz wore it);
2. Personalized shirts: i.e. Bill’s Bachelor Party Vegas 2011;
3. Bands or other famous people whose 15 minutes of fame is up: i.e. Jonas Brothers;
4. Free shirts from fundraising events: i.e. Run For The Cure;
5. Most giveaway shirts: i.e. I bet on The Kentucky Derby at Green Valley Casino;
6. Dated sporting events: i.e. New Orleans Saints win Super Bowl 2010 (NOTE: The exception to the rule is you happen to find a T-shirt from an early Super Bowl or Olympics. Olympic shirts will all sell, no matter the year or place;

Also, be careful of the biggest, best-known bands. Even though everyone knows the Beatles, Stones, AC/DC and the like, the sell-through rate for their shirts isn’t that great. The reason? There are so many of them for sale. As of this writing, there are more than 9,000 Beatles T-shirts for sale on eBay (not counting solo shirts). In comparison, there were 395 Moody Blues shirts and 434 No Doubt shirts.

An important aspect of T-shirt shopping for resale is to check the condition of the shirt. A torn, holey, smelly or stained T-shirt loses quite a bit of appeal. Depending on the subject matter, a vintage shirt from the ’60s or ’70s might command good money in almost any condition. Using WorthPoint to verify past sales is a great way to increase your profits when stumbling on rarer T-shirts. When you sell your finds, make sure that you accurately describe any flaws and you will still find buyers willing to compromise to get unusual shirts.

Oingo Boingo was a new wave band from the late 80s/ early 90s and threw legendary Halloween concerts. Found two of them for $2 each. Sold this one from 1991 for $61 and one from 1995 for $41

A vintage 1990s T-shirt from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, “Total Recall.” Found two on the rack for $2 each. Sold for $30 each.


While many may collect fine art or other typical categories, it would not be unusual to find an increase in people acquiring T-shirts with an expectation of appreciation in value. Especially for shirts related to musicians. Some of these may do well over the next 10-20 years as some of the greatest entertainers who have been immortalized in cotton move on to the big concert in the sky.

Wearing T-shirts no longer has the stigma it once did in the past. You’ll see people wearing T-shirts everywhere, proudly proclaiming everything from political points of view to passions for music, name brands and hobbies. We urge you to step outside of your comfort zone and consider sourcing T-shirts for resale or to collect yourself. We have stepped up our game in this arena by confidently using our experience and quick, in-the-field research available to us by using WorthPoint. We’re sure once you try T-shirts, you’ll quickly be very comfortable too.

All Harley Davidson shirts will sell. Again, the more remote the dealership, the more it will sell for. Bought this for $4 and sold for $30. We have sold more than 50 Harley shirts already this year.

Most would pass something like this up but a shark fan or someone who was at the tournament and lost his shirt scooped this up quick. Paid $1, listed it for $25 and sold less than 60 minutes later.

Bryan Goodman and Jason Smith are Thrifting with the Boys. They are motivational speakers teaching thrift store resourcing techniques at seminars throughout the country. They have a popular Facebook group devoted only to thrifting and have run thrifting excursions around the country.


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24 Responses to “Vintage Graphic T-Shirts Can Be Converted into Thrift Store Gold”

  1. Debbie says:

    Thank you for such an excellent article. Most people would charge money for such great information. As a book seller it’s getting harder to find good inventory since so many others look for books to sell and even the thrift stores are selling their books online now. It’s important for my business to learn other niches and this article gave me just what I needed to get started with tshirts.

  2. Annette says:

    What an informative article! Now THIS is something even I could get into doing. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with everyone guys!

    • Tricia says:

      Great article! This really helps me as now I know what I’ve been doing wrong when looking for t-shirts! Thanks to both of you for all your help. Looking forward to more great articles. :)

  3. Steve says:

    Great article! Now I am off to dig thru my closet!

  4. Can’t thank Thrifting with the Boys enough for all their helpful and FREE information. This article regarding t-shirts is another one I will file to use for future reference. I look forward to what they have in store for their next topic!

  5. Cindy says:

    Nice article boys. Very informative. Even though I have had the experience to theist with you (awesome adventure by the way). I learned so much and took notes. I do well with t shirts and also have done well with what I have learned from Jason on Hawaiian shirts. Awesome job.

  6. Joel Elad says:

    Well described, great points, easy to follow, and very encouraging! I’m definitely hitting the t-shirt racks when I go to my next thrift store or garage sale. THANKS GUYS!

  7. Steve says:

    My mom had me look at this article and told me to thin down my t shirts. I realized I could make some tuition money for college and so I have about 20 to list all because of this amazing article. I never would have even thought someone would want my old T-Shirts from my concerts I went to and all the beer shirts I wear here in Utah to show people I am not Mormon. Great article… very informative and now I think I am getting why my mom says Thrifting is Fun and Profitable.

    Steve in Utah

  8. Michelle says:

    Thrifting With The Boys are such a wealth of information and online selling tips! They are generous with their time and knowledge, knowing that there’s enough “gold” out there for everyone to have fun AND make a good living. Big thanks to Worthpoint for showcasing these articles. Can’t wait to see what The Boys have up their (t-shirt) sleeves next!

  9. Pat Curry says:

    Jason are Pink Floyd shirts on the desirable list? This article is so timely and helpful for us.

    • Thanx for asking Pat. If you find any vintage Pink Floyd shirts, yes they are very desirable. However, in the last couple of years, Pink Floyd has licensed the artwork from their old tours to a bunch of different t-shirt companies. Because of this, there are a glut of current shirts. And don’t be fooled by the shirts that say 1977. More than likely, it is a current shirt.
      Hope that helps
      Thrift On!

  10. Vintage T-Shirts says:

    Good work boyz! Tee thrifters can also keep an eye on our blog/forum – massive resource for vintage t-shirts, old labels, guides, value, etc.

  11. Great article. This is exactly what I teach my readers as well in my book Thrift Store Goldmines. When you shop thrift stores, if you can’t describe it, then you’ll have hard time selling it. Think of a thrift store as a “keyword store.” T Shirts are a great way to start selling on eBay. Can probably start with some from your own closet or a friends or dad’s!

  12. Jez says:

    I expect another reason that your Oingo Boingo tee sold high is because Danny Elfman was the lead singer. He has gone on to do movie soundtracks like The Nightmare Before Christmas. I saw Boingo in convert back in the day. Maybe it’s time to sell my shirt :)

  13. Margaret says:

    I have an original “Revenge Of The Jedi” T-Shirt, never worn and taken out of the bag it came in and unfolded once. Is it worth more than $25.00?

    • If it truly is a Revenge Of The Jedi shirt, it is worth well more than $25. That was the original title of the 3rd movie in the original Star Wars trilogy. George Lucas decided to change it to Return Of The Jedi. The few things that had been produced with the original title, go for big, big money. I would venture a guess of somewhere between $200-$400 for your shirt. If you would like help selling the shirt, drop me a line

      • jimmyj says:

        @Jason @Margaret I’ve had and sold several of them. Likely get between $50 and $100 if you’re patient in fixed priced format on eBay. I’ve seen auctions for them slip away for under $50.

        They aren’t as rare and sought after as one might think. Barry from Storage Wars found a Revenge Jacket and they valued it at over $3k. That was definitely a made for TV estimate – but the jackets are far more rare than the tees.

  14. Carl Jickeli says:

    I have a T-shirt from a FNHS production of “Savage Days.” I believe it is from the mid-1970s. I cleaned hair from a dity beard off the collar, other than that it is in good shape.

  15. Neal says:

    Great article! Of course there’s an inherent contradiction between vintage T-shirts and Size Popularity. Statistics show the average weight of Americans has gone up steadily over the last 20 to 30 years (i.e. we’ve gotten fatter!).

    There are not too many 2XL & 3XL T-shirts from the 60′s and 70′s. (not sure those sizes even existed back then!). Indeed, one would be hardpressed to find a pre-90′s vintage T-shirt in anything larger than an XL (which itself probably corresponds to an “L” today). Still, I suppose it would be easier for a modern American to fit in a vintage T-shirt than a Victorian corset or Edwardian suit!!!

  16. sierraseven says:

    I have an assortment of never-worn t-shirts from the Sturgis, South Dakota, motorcycle rallies for the years 2000 through 2008. Some are licensed Harley-Davidson rally t-shirts, but most are not H-D, just licensed rally merchandise. I have one set of a long-sleeve t-shirt and coffee mug with matching H-D rally graphics, as well. Are these marketable items? Thanks for the article – very interesting, although aside from the rally t-shirts I mostly have just worn my “classic” t’s to shreds.

  17. Rob Bertrand says:

    Hi Guys – LOVE the show and really appreciate the article. QUESTION – Do you guys wash and/or iron (if needed) your t-shirts before photographing them so they present better or do you just go ‘as is’? Thanks in advance.

    • Hey Rob – Thanx for watching the show. I don’t normally wash and never iron anything UNLESS it is dirty (i tend to not buy dirty clothes) and if it is so wrinkled, even I can’t stand it.

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