Monday, January 17, 2011

Collecting J5 T-shirts

I recently bid on a t-shirt on eBay without being sure if it was true vintage or more recently created retro. The price was low and I believe I am the only one who bid on it, so I won the auction and now have it in my possession. I am still not sure if it's a true '70s T-shirt.

It has some of the hallmarks of vintage and some or retro. Let's start with the difference between vintage and retro. "Vintage" refers to the shirts that were actually created in the J5 era and sold either as fan merchandise or promotional shirts. "Retro" refers to shirts created now but that are made to look old.

The vintage qualities of the shirt seen above are the size (t-shirt sizes in the 70s were much smaller than they are today) and the fact that there is fading and wear in the picture, and many of the letters are cracked, showing signs of age. But what makes me think it's retro is the fact that it is 100% cotton. Most '70s t-shirts were a 50/50 cotton and polyester blend. I am about 95% sure that this shirt is retro rather than vintage. It's a nice piece, nonetheless, and only cost me $5.00 so it was worth a shot.

You see lots and lots of newly created Jackson 5 shirts for sale online these days. Most don't even try to pass themselves off as vintage shirts, and were clearly made by someone with a scanner and an iron-on transfer program.

What you didn't see back in the 70s were racks and racks of J5 t-shirts for sale, like you see for popular artists today. In fact, I don't remember ever seeing a single one. Granted, I lived in the middle of nowhere and maybe kids in big cities came across a J5 t-shirt now and then. I just never saw one.

But I do remember this ad you'd see in the back of Soul:

Just look at those offerings! And the prices! I'll take one of each please. Okay, now I have a confession to make. I did send away for one of the items from this ad but it wasn't a t-shirt. It was the pillow case. For years I had it on my bed, underneath my Picasso's "Don Quijote" poster. It was as close as I ever got to sleeping with Jermaine.

Other than the Soul ad, the only time I saw pictures of Jackson 5 t-shirts were when the Jackson 5 themselves were wearing them. here are some examples.

Jackie is wearing my all-time favorite J5 t-shirt, that reads "World Famous Jackson Five." These shirts were sold on their tours beginning in 1973, and Jackie is wearing one on the J5's trip to Senegal early in 1974.

Randy is holding up a similar shirt here to promote a teen magazine contest give-away. (Sadly I did not win this contest. I did not enter because Jermaine was no longer one of the J5 bachelors.)

The most common type of t-shirt we saw the Jackson brothers wearing had the J5 logo printed onto them. I believe these were probably created as Motown promotional items. This is clearest on Randy's shirt, which says Motown Records about the J5 heart logo.

Here Tito and Jermaine model two different versions of shirts with the J5 logo imprinted on the chest.

Why can't they sell shirts like this now in the Motown Store?

In all my years of collecting, I have never found any shirts exactly like these. But I have found some that are similar. For for the next week, we'll delve into the J5 Collector vaults to take a closer look at each one.


  1. I never notice that Jackie was wearing a J5 T-shirt in Africa!
    I often see Jacksons T-shirts on the internet but I don't think I've come by a real vintage J5 T-shirt that often! I'm curious to see what you got :)

  2. What is that super-sweet tank top featured in the upper right hand corner of the ad? It could probably double as a toddler sundress. Awesome.