29-Jun, 09:02

09:19, January 31 127 0

2017-01-31 09:19:09
The Collector: $220 for a Vintage Prince T-Shirt? Um, Deal!

I probably shouldn’t start out by telling you that I left the family Christmas table for 40 minutes trying, in vain, to buy myself a T-shirt on eBay. But someone had died: George Michael.

The day before, I had been eyeing a shirt from his “Faith” tour that was selling on eBay for $60. Now, prices would surely skyrocket.

I am a vintage concert T-shirt collector, which is not something I’m entirely proud of. Not with Justin Bieber running around in a $1,500 customized vintage Nirvana shirt with the brand name Fear of God emblazoned across the back.

Wasn’t rock ’n’ roll — at least, in part — a lament against rampant consumerism and bourgeois society?

Ah, well. To be a vintage concert T-shirt collector in 2017 is to dispense with the ordinary customs of rational society.

At least I’m not alone. The retailer Jeffrey Kalinsky collects old Electric Light Orchestra and Pink Floyd T-shirts, which a tailor at the eponymous owner’s store in the meatpacking district cuts down to his size.

Craig Kallman, the chief executive of Atlantic Records, has amassed a surplus of more than a thousand T-shirts, the most expensive of which is a Led Zeppelin shirt from the Bath Festival in 1970. “A thousand dollars,” he said. “It’s a museum piece.”

The prices for a band’s vintage merch largely jibe with its critical reputation. So shirts for Led Zeppelin and the Clash cost more than those for Guns N’ Roses, which go for more than Def Leppard or Heart T-shirts, which fetch more than Mötley Crüe, which are basically tied with Bon Jovi.

When I started collecting a decade ago, I had a rule against buying shirts for shows I hadn’t attended. Then came a Prince and the Revolution shirt from the Purple Rain tour, which I found in the East Village for $45.

The fit was perfect, but it was more than that. The shirt seemed to telegraph everything I hoped to be: Masculine, if not butch. An iconoclast, but not a pedantically esoteric one.

So what if I hadn’t been there? I had seen him on every tour since 1993. And it wasn’t as if I was spending $150, a price only a moron would pay. Nor did I take my T-shirt to the tailor, a practice popularized by Jennifer Aniston.

Those rules broke down soon enough. The Purple Rain shirt was my gateway drug.

It got to be tissue-paper thin, so I replaced it with one I found on eBay for $85. When the replacement didn’t fit as well, I had my neighborhood dry cleaner recut it to the shape of the one that was expiring. Last October, I wore the replacement to the gym and left it in the locker room, where it was snatched up by a thief with good taste.

Since Prince had died, prices were skyrocketing. So I forked over $220 to a seller in Malaysia for another one. While waiting for it to arrive, I fell down a rabbit hole known as Etsy. It has less merchandise than eBay but is better curated, with fewer counterfeits.

One of my favorite dealers is Patrick Klima of WyCo Vintage, whose clients have included Mr. Kallman and Axl Rose. Another favorite is Joe Rockwell, whose Etsy store, Rainbow Gasoline, teems with shirts from Joan Jett, Journey and Cyndi Lauper.

Yes, the cat hair on a recent batch of shirts triggered my first asthma attack in 38 years. And, yes, $100 for a T-shirt is excessive. But it’s still $75 cheaper than my A.P.C. jeans and nowhere near the $450 it costs to get a Plasmatics shirt from Resurrection in Los Angeles.

Thankfully, I didn’t buy that one. It helped that it wasn’t in my size.