What is a Single Stitch Shirt?

If you’re a fan of vintage clothing, you’ve probably heard the buzz around single stitch T-shirts. Fans of retro clothing have become more interested in single stitching because they believe it can be used to authenticate vintage T-shirts. However, it’s a little more complicated than that. Let’s dive in and learn more about the history of single stitch T-shirts.

What Is a Single Stitch Vintage T-Shirt?

T-shirts with single stitch construction have a single row of thread that secures the sleeve cuffs and bottom hem edges. Modern T-shirt manufacturers use a double row of stitching.

With a single stitch tee, the primary focus is the seams on the shoulder, lower hem, and cuff. During the 1980s and 1990s, most T-shirt manufacturers used this method.

harley vintage single stitch
Single Stitch Vintage t-shirt

The History of Single Stitch T-Shirts

History of Single Stitch T shirts
Source: TshirtGrowth.com

Single stitch T-shirts were common before the mid-1990s, but you can still find single stitched tees today. The material also comes into play. Vintage items are usually much thinner than modern double-stitch T-shirts.

Beginning in the 1960s, ringer T-shirts appeared and became a fashion staple for young people. A ringer T-shirt has a band of contrasting colored ribbed fabric on the sleeves and cuff. Ringer T-shirts were typically single-stitched. 

To fully understand the history of single-stitch T-shirts, it helps to know more about the history of the double stitch T-shirt.

When was the double stitch introduced?

Some T-shirts pre-1990 used double stitching. There are some valuable and authentic vintage pieces that have double stitching. Brands such as Aeropostale and Ralph Lauren were making double stitched T-shirts back in the day.

However, in the ’90s, most T-shirts transitioned to double stitch construction. Although double stitched tees were around in the ’70s and ’80s, they didn’t really gain much traction until the ’90s. Not coincidentally, this was the era when free trade gained momentum. In 1994, the U.S. implemented the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

NAFTA allowed trade to flow more freely between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., making it easier for clothing manufacturers to get cheap labor.

Why was the double stitch introduced?

It was after NAFTA was signed into law that more factories started using the sloppier double stitch method. Double stitching was faster and easier, but the quality of the shirt was affected.

If the quality wasn’t as good, why would clothing manufacturers start using double stitching? One theory is that the machinery became more efficient. Another theory suggests that with double stitching, it was easier to hide flaws.

Other industry experts suggest that when T-shirt makers transitioned to cheaper fabrics, they needed more contact points that could hold everything together.

What’s the correct answer? Most business decisions are about making a bigger profit, so it’s probably a combination of all of those theories. If T-shirt manufacturers could save money by using double stitching, they moved in that direction.

The theories of better machinery, cheaper fabrics, and hiding flaws are all plausible, but here’s the bottom line: It probably all came down to cheaper labor. If companies could save money by using more efficient machines with an unending supply of cheap labor, they would do it. And they did.

The Difference Between Single Stitch Shirts and Double Stitch Shirts

For the most part, the phrasing tells you what you need to know about the difference between single stitch and double stitch shirts. A single stitch T-shirt has one row of stitching, and a double stitch T-shirt has two rows of stitching.

Need a visual about the difference between single stitch and double stitch? Check out this video about how to thrift vintage single stitch T-shirts.

Are Single Stich T-Shirts Better Than Double Stitch Tees?

The main benefit of single stitching goes beyond just how a T-shirt looks. With single stitching, the stitch type used is the backstitch (sometimes called the lock stitch), and this is the most durable stitch. In short, the back part serves as a sort of lock for the front part.

Single stitch T-shirts have stronger joins featuring encapsulated raw edges. This helps prevent the unraveling that we often see in double stitched T-shirts.

With a double-stitched shirt, it’s different. Double stitches are quicker and like many quick and easy things, quality can sometimes be sacrificed. With a double stitched T-shirt, the entire thread can unravel if it becomes damaged.

However, in most cases, double-stitching in modern T-shirts is usually a higher quality product with greater durability. It depends on the brand and quality of the T-shirt you’re buying.

When Is Single Stitch Used in Shirts Now?

If a T-shirt designer wants to produce a shirt with a vintage look and feel, they will often use single stitching. Because single stitch T-shirts are thinner, they look more vintage, whereas heavier and thicker T-shirts need double stitching.

How to Find Single Stitch Shirts Today

If you’re looking for vintage single stitch t-shirts, you can find lots of options in online marketplaces such as Etsy and eBay. Thrift stores are also an excellent option for sourcing vintage single stitch T-shirts, and you can shop at a vintage store that specializes in clothing and will guarantee a genuine vintage garment.

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Vintage Single Stitch Shirt on Etsy

Just keep in mind the cautions that we shared in this article. Single stitching doesn’t always mean a shirt is vintage, and in some cases, double stitched T-shirts are also vintage shirts.

The good news is that as consumers begin to want single stitched tees, modern T-shirt manufacturers will keep up with the demand and supply them. In fact, a quick Alibaba search turned up plenty single stitch T-shirts, which indicates not just a (sort of) growing trend but also the fact that cheaper labor can also produce single stitch tees.

What Can Single Stitch and Double Stitch Tell Us?

If you’re a vintage shirt collector, you can often use the stitch type to verify authenticity. Keep in mind that if someone is creating a forgery, they will use a blank that has single stitching. This can make things confusing, and you can’t always know if a single stitch T-shirt is a true vintage tee.

With that said, you can use stitching as one tool to ascertain whether or not a T-shirt is a genuine vintage tee. If you are looking for a vintage fashion tee that claims to be an authentic 1980s shirt (if you do have 80s vintage shirts, frame these tees), double stitching can sometimes reveal a fake. There’s not a hard and fast rule because there are exceptions.

Trying to apply that same rule to 1990s T-shirts is an unreliable way to authenticate vintage tees. Essentially, from the year 2000 onward, single-stitch pieces have nearly no relevance.