Reader, all I want is a vintage T-shirt with the cover art of the single "Smooth" by Santana featuring Rob Thomas. I know what you’re thinking: But "Game of Love" featuring Michelle Branch is so much better!
Just kidding, you’re thinking, "Ugh, Santana memes are done." This is maybe true for a certain segment of the internet, sure, but we’re talking about a Santana lifer here — a Stantana, if you will. I’m in it for the Latin/rock crossover, and nothing more.
But back to my main point, which is that this is much, much more difficult than it should be. It started the way many great things do: after drinking four glasses of rosé while watching the Emmy Award–winning ABC drama Bachelor in Paradise. Seduced by all the cool graphic T-shirts that have been coming out recently, I wanted to "do the trend in my own way" — to borrow a phrase from every fashion magazine — by paying homage to my favorite dad band, Santana.
The excitement of potentially being a walking advertisement for ‘90s-era Carlos Santana quickly turned into disappointment, however, when multiple searches on eBay and Etsy revealed that this would not be the inexpensive purchase I had hoped for.
The first annoying thing I discovered was that this shirt kept showing up, which, while mildly funny, relies too heavily on the "Smooth" meme and I am therefore uninterested in it.
Sure, okay. The shirt is funny. But does it convey the specific Carlos Santana featuring Rob Thomas aesthetic? It does not.
Another affordable (i.e. $20) T-shirt I kept coming across was this one:
While this shirt is also fine, the graphic was too large for my taste, and also it doesn’t exhibit the colorful Latin rock associations that Santana (and Santana collaborations) represent.
Some other problems with the Santana shirts I saw on eBay and Etsy: too large, too tye-dye, and too lion motif-centric (no offense to Mr. Santana, but it does not speak to me the same way that, say, an abstract illustration of a guitar does).
But among the shirts I actually liked, I came across an entirely different problem: They all cost more than I personally am willing to pay for a Santana shirt.
For example, this glorious raglan sleeve 1970’s Santana T-shirt is on sale for a whopping $68:
Meanwhile, this black T-shirt in a reasonable size medium is $41:
And this bright yellow one is inexplicably $75:
While this one (that doesn’t even have sleeves!!!) is $50:
These, however, were nothing compared to the ones on Etsy. Behold, a $150 purple Santana T-shirt:
And another one that’s $165, I guess, because there are fish on it?
Even among the reasonably priced ones, often the shipping prices matched the cost of the actual shirt. Consider this beauty, which comes in at a fair $30:
But when I added it to my cart, it suddenly cost a non-fair $48:
Again and again, I ran into the same phenomenon of the oddly expensive Santana shirts and the decent-priced Santana shirts that magically turn into expensive Santana shirts. It was at this point that I decided, in the words of Rob Thomas, "This life ain’t good enough." It was time to seek answers.
You see, I had a nagging feeling that vintage Santana T-shirts weren’t always this expensive, nor as difficult to find. Something inside whispered, Santana memes are to blame for this.
"Hey there," began my email to the eBay press office. "I have a somewhat silly question to ask related to a piece on vintage T-shirts I'm working on for the fashion website Racked. Have you seen demand/price increase for vintage Santana T-shirts since ‘Smooth’ became an internet meme?"
Expecting to be ignored in eBay’s attempt to cover up the Great Sanspiricy, I was shocked when, within 24 hours, I had my answer.
"Santana T-shirt are selling on eBay at an average price of $22," eBay wrote, as though I couldn’t see for myself this was incredibly false. "Since June 21st, there have been more than 250 Santana T-shirts sold on eBay. When looking at sales of new [emphasis eBay’s] Santana T-shirts from June 21st to August 30th, there was an increase in mid-August where the number of new Santana T-shirts quadrupled."
Mid-August, or precisely when "Smooth" reached its "Song of Summer" peak. So it was true: Santana shirts were flooding the market at the same rate that the historic collaboration rose on the Spotify charts (I assume? A similar inquiry to Spotify has, as of press time, gone unanswered).
This led to an even bigger question, however: What if other vintage T-shirts from other celebrated-in-their-time-but-kind-of-embarrassing-now musical acts are affected by this phenomenon as well?
Before launching this investigation, I had to consider the parameters. First and most importantly, this search only includes bands and artists that are considered objectively good in their heyday. For example, something from Creed or Nickelback does not work, because both are and have always been terrible, and therefore making a joke out of them is not only not funny, but also lazy and a little bit mean.
Our sister site The Verge did a great job describing the particular kind of band that is bound to become "a thing" after it was a thing. Of their songs, they write: "You know the words, but you're not ‘proud.’ You probably have one happy moment associated with the song, which means that turning on it and mocking it makes you just the right amount of uncomfortable . . . They remind us, not entirely unpleasantly, of the more basic sides of our personalities."
In other words, George Michael. Steely Dan. Mamma Mia. These are the artists and Broadway song-sations that fit into my rather narrow description of bands and musical acts who are considered pretty lame now, but also that I would really like to wear a vintage T-shirt of.
Confirming my suspicion, finding these shirts proved to just as difficult as finding a suitable Santana T-shirt. For example, this T-shirt for George Michael’s "Freedom 90" costs a bewildering $70:
Even if all you want is a T-shirt with the likeness of Peak Hot George Michael, it’ll set you back $75:
Vintage T-shirts for another dad band, Steely Dan, are even worse, with this one coming in at $125:
And this work of art, featuring portrait of post-Genesis, pre-Tarzan Phil Collins, is $60:
Meanwhile, this Phil Collins circa-Genesis one is also very good, but is $100:
Here is an ‘80s U2 T-shirt that is an infuriating $149, plus $19.50 for shipping:
Even if you fast-forward up to U2’s Joshua Tree tour, that’ll still be $75, thanks:
Continuing along the vein of dorky ‘90s British rock, here’s a $50 T-shirt for Coldplay in the Law & Order font:
And a $100 shirt commemorating Take That–era Robbie Williams:
Back across the pond, this beautiful Ben Folds Five ringer tee is $129, proving early emo-ish bands are not immune to ridiculous markups either:
While this New Found Glory one is $75:
Happily, most of the Taking Back Sunday shirts I found were pretty cheap, but you could pay $45 for this one if you wanted to:
Or just pay the confoundingly exact price of $264.41 for this Green Day T-shirt from the "Dookie" tour:
If you want something a little less loud but with equal feeling, opt for a Lilith Fair T-shirt. This gorgeous item is $69 (nice):
While this Sarah McLaughlan one is $75:
And this Tori Amos one is $99:
Indigo Girls, $92:
Melissa Etheridge might be the most coveted of all the Lilith Fair acts, at $150:
Over on Broadway, things aren’t much cheaper. While there are a decent amount of reasonably priced T-shirts celebrating the longest-running Broadway musical of all time, The Phantom of the Opera, here’s one that’s $60:
This incredible Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat T-shirt from the ‘70s might actually be worth the $50:
Ditto with this $138 The Lion King shirt, which asks the question: Why aren’t movie T-shirts still a thing? I would like to wear a shirt with the official movie poster art of When Harry Met Sally. Why can’t I?
Here’s a $50 T-shirt from when Grease was a "new musical comedy":
And a $50 Les Miserables one:
And a $60 one from The King and I:
This tie dye Jesus Christ Superstar T-shirt is only $20, but in my opinion this is still too much to pay for a tie-dye Jesus Christ Superstar T-shirt and therefore belongs on this list:
But no brand of T-shirt mirrored my search for Santana as much as the Broadway musical Cats, which, like "Smooth," is currently enjoying a revival of its own. While there are tons — just absolutely staggering amounts — of vintage Cats regalia to be found on the internet, the ones I liked best were just slightly more than I was willing to pay.
For example, this delightful and cozy-looking sweatshirt from the West End tour describes itself as "super soft" and even has the fun signature Cats eyes on the back. Unfortunately, it is $99:
You can even get one that says you were on the local crew, but it’ll cost you $499:
And this T-shirt, which despite its price of $76, is just a regular T-shirt that does not mark you as one of the original crew members:
Ditto this one, which looks very worn, maybe deodorant-stained, and is somehow $79:
You’re better off buying this one, which costs slightly less ($66) and includes images of the actors in cat costumes:
But perhaps most frustrating of all, most of the Cats T-shirts you can find online are in the $30-to-$50 range, which, again, is just over the amount I am willing to pay for a Cats T-shirt.
Like this one, which is an annoying $32:
Or this slightly-more-interesting-but-not-interesting-enough one for $30:
Reader, I’m tired. Tired of looking for Santana "Smooth" T-shirts that are not hideous and no more than $30. Hell, I’d even settle for a Cats T-shirt that is under $15, but that’s including shipping. I believe this is a simple request. In the immortal words of Rob Thomas, "Give me your T-shirts, make them cheap, or else forget about it."