Every once in a while, I find myself browsing eBay or Instagram and I find older Naruto shirts being classified as “vintage” despite some of what’s on sale being not even ten years old. Maybe I have a different expectation of what that word means, but seeing as how there’s so much misinformation on the Internet these days, I feel like I must shed some light on this topic.
When I see auctions for officially licensed North American Naruto shirts that are supposedly from 2002, I can’t help but laugh considering the shirt didn’t exist that far back. Yes, Naruto, the manga, was available in 2002, but the anime didn’t start airing in Japan until October 2002, and it wasn’t until September 2005 that the series was broadcast on North American television (who remembers the Americanized opening theme?). Viz Media, with Ripple Junction, started making the tops for 2005 and selling them through Viz Media’s online store and retailers like Hot Topic and FYE. So when you see the 2002 and 2007 dates on a shirt tag, it’s for the copyright dates of the Naruto and Naruto Shippuden anime series, not when the shirt was manufactured (the “MK” on the tag means Masashi Kishimoto, the creator of Naruto, and the “SP” is for Shippuden). By 2010, the tags on the neckline were replaced with the logo and license details printed on the inside fabric to reduce costs; anything produced after that year doesn’t exactly fit into the vintage category.
Now, I’ve been buying anime-themed shirts for almost 15 years now and I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen the bootlegs, I’ve ordered shirts from Japan, I’ve stocked up at conventions. I have some of the first Naruto t-shirts that were released for sale — you can determine this by the earlier “Shonen Jump’s” versus the newer “Shonen Jump” wordmark over the Naruto logo. Just like many sneakerheads, I can point out differences and tell you from when that shirt initially went to market.
But I think the real gem was a vintage reseller on Instagram revealed a hoard of new, never worn, with the price tags on tees from Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist, Bleach, InuYasha, One Piece, Yu Yu Hakusho and a few others. According to their Instagram story, the seller was going to drop the entire collection in the early morning and warned they would go quickly. So when they went up for grabs, I was astounded at the price — a handful started at $49.95 USD and went up, one clocking in at an whopping $149.95 USD (nearly $200 CAD after exchange). This was in August; it is now the end of October and some of those shirts are still waiting for a new home, still bearing hefty price tags. These shirts used to go for $17 USD a pop in the mid-2000’s, so you can see why I find the price beyond inflated.
Greed can get the best of us, and some see it as a way thinking they’ll get more than a few extra bucks from a hapless fan. Uniqlo shirts, originally from the Weekly Shonen Jump collaboration in 2018 and earlier this year, originally retailed at $14.90; you’ll be hard-pressed to find something from those lines under $30 USD or $40 USD today.
Not all resellers are greedy or dishonest. Many are nice people, who work hard to get things we may have missed out from back in the day. These are the respectable ones who are upfront with their prices and do their research into the articles they sell. For example, a good sneakerhead wouldn’t pass off a pair of 2010 retro Nike Air Jordan XI as originals from 1995; nor would a quality vintage reseller pass off a 2012 Naruto Shippuden shirt claiming it’s from 2002.
Now, there are some older shirts from the mid-to-late 1990’s that would come close to being vintage, those being from Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, Gundam Wing, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Akira to name a few. Keys to look for are the fabric weight (90’s tees were printed on much thicker cotton than today), the design and age. Some fade quite nicely, but shouldn’t appear to bright and vibrant as if they were printed just yesterday; image cracking is also a big giveaway. And don’t be afraid to compare or do an image search online. Pictures are worth a thousand words.
So, if you’re out looking for an anime shirt and you see the word “vintage” in title, ask yourself: Is it really vintage? Chances are you’re spending extra cash that you shouldn’t. I’m just waiting for the day when the apparel that’s available now is going to skyrocket in price under the premise that it’s vintage (especially since the Primitive Skateboarding x Naruto Shippuden collection is dropping soon). Based on what people are selling online, that may not be too far off.