Besides a face tattoo of your favorite band, rock T-shirts offer the best combination of artwork and advertising, acting like a membership badge that confers insider status. Some of the earliest T-shirts made to celebrate a musician were produced by Elvis Presley’s fan clubs during the late 1950s, just as the T-shirt was becoming an emblematic style choice for rebellious teenagers. As rock-n-roll music spread, the 1959 invention of plastisol (a durable ink designed for use on fabric) cemented the concert T-shirt’s place in history. San Francisco-based promoter Bill Graham was one of the first to recognize the rock tee’s moneymaking potential toward the end of the 1960s, when he started printing shirts for popular West Coast acts like Jefferson Airplane. But the golden era of the rock-n-roll T-shirt really began in the 1970s, as they evolved from free swag made for a band and its crew to a collectible piece of merchandise every fan needed. During the following decades, shirts were sold at every major show and tour, typically featuring imagery that let fans easily identify themselves as followers of an artist and their music. Groups like the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd had shirts that showcased psychedelia; punk acts like the Ramones, the Clash, and Sex Pistols went for an anarchist, DIY look; T-shirts for Ozzie Osborne, Mötley Crüe, and the Misfits featured darker and more violent graphics. By the 1980s, fans of popular bands like the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Van Halen, Journey, and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts all wanted their favorite artist’s faces emblazoned across their chests, as did those who liked music as diverse as Kiss, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Metallica, and David Bowie. Today, shirts for artists like Iron Maiden, the Police, and Nirvana continue to draw top dollar due to their powerful graphics and rabid fan-base. But for a true music geek, the holy grail is a concert shirt from a show you’ve actually seen in person; while many retailers make reproduction shirts, such knockoffs will always lack the “I was there” power of an authentic vintage rock shirt.
5 WAYS TO STYLE BAND TEES
Vintage, retro, and lived-in styles have been an obsession of ours for some time now, and with designers drawing inspiration from some of the greatest decades, it should be no surprise that the famous bands and artists that graced the stage at this time are also turning up in today’s fashion.
From our favorite rock bands to a little punk and blue grass, band tees of all kinds have been filling our closets.
With a collection of tees that says we’re with the band, we’ve had to get creative with how we wear all our new additions. Here to prove that band tees can go with a bottom of every genre, here’s 5 ways to style band tees:
1. Distressed Shorts
Outfit By: @PattyyVarela
Distressed denim shorts are the obvious choice for this rock ‘n roll tee. Take note from your favorite rock band and make your own rules.
2. Fashion Pants
Outfit By: @Ssavannah_Lynn
Band tees and fashion pants are a great way to combine feminine styling with a little edge. Pair your band tee with fashion pants in a complimentary color or print, and finish off the look with neutral layers and accessories.
Outfit By: @TheIowaStylist
Make your dresses more versatile by tying up a band tee right over it! It’s a way to get more use out of your dresses, while also making them more casual.
4. Biker Shorts
Outfit By: @Kali_Roberts
If you’ve been looking for another way to wear your favorite Kim K trend, consider bands tees and biker shorts your new combo.
5. Ripped Jeans
Outfit By: @Shaylee_Stoneman
We’ll end it with a classic go-to. A simple outfit, made up of pieces you’re bound to already have in your closet: distressed ankle skinny jeans and slip-on sneakers.
How the band T-shirt evolved
1968: the first rock T-shirts are produced, made by Bill Graham, the concert promoter who worked with bands such as Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead.
1978: Arturo Vega designs the Ramones logo, with the names of the band’s four members around an image of the eagle similar to the one on the American flag. It is now one of the most recognisable band logos – and T-shirts – in the world.
1979: Iron Maiden’s logo appears on their debut EP, The Soundhouse Tapes. It goes on to feature on T-shirts, and becomes a classic of the band T-shirt genre.
c.1985: Run-DMC begin producing T-shirts with the now-classic logo with red bands. It is so recognisable that there are parodies with everything from “OMG WTF” to “Corbyn” between the red bands.
1991: the Nirvana logo with a smiley face is used on a concert poster. It lives on 26 years later – worn on T-shirts everywhere, by everyone from Romeo Beckham to Fearne Cotton.
1997: Biggie Smalls is fatally shot in Los Angeles. Unofficial tribute T-shirts to the rapper become popular.
2005: Streetwear brand Supreme collaborates with graphic designer Peter Saville on a T-shirt using the design he made in 1979 for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. This design is now almost a meme of the rock look. It is possible to buy leggings with Unknown Pleasures zigzags on them.
2017: Kendall and Kylie Jenner produce T-shirts with images of Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur and Ozzy Osbourne with their selfies over the top. Controversy ensues.
A Nirvana tour crew t-shirt from 1993. A Michael Jackson Thriller tour t-shirt from 1984. A Led Zeppelin promotional t-shirt from 1973. These are three of the most expensive t-shirts of all time. These rock t-shirts, while nothing special at the time of their release, have grown more and more valuable over time due to the context surrounding them. The market for vintage band and concert t-shirts has grown into a worldwide sensation. As the saying goes, “One man’s trash could be worth thousands of dollars.”
Vintage t-shirts are old t-shirts that have increased in value over time. For example, an old Nirvana shirt may have been standard in 1993, but after singer Kurt Cobain’s suicide, these shirts became increasingly more expensive. For a t-shirt to be considered vintage, it cannot be just any run-of-the-mill band t-shirt. The shirts that grow in value the most are often specific to a single show or a limited original release. This is why promotional shirts for bands are often valued extremely high to vintage t-shirt collectors. These shirts are typically released in small batches and made available to a small group for a short amount of time. These rare shirts, such as The Beatles or the Ramones, hold value as pieces of history.
For many years now, the practice of vintage t-shirt collecting has been a relatively niche market. T-shirts were often only collected by fans of the bands themselves. At a certain point around 2016, the vintage band t-shirt craze reached an all-time high. Reality TV star Kendall Jenner was spotted wearing a vintage Slayer t-shirt. Pop star Justin Bieber traded in his purple hoodies for vintage Metallica t-shirts. Suddenly, what may have once been a hobby for a relatively small percentage of the population was being broadcast by some of the biggest names in culture.
Now, vintage band t-shirts have become an enormous business. Specific vintage t-shirts can be sold for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Beyond merely a piece of a band’s history, they have become a collectible item such as classic cars or baseball cards. The more obscure, the more difficult to find, the better. For this reason, genuine vintage t-shirts have become more and more pricey, being sold by high-end realtors. The thrill of collecting these comes from many different places, such as finding old concert t-shirts at garage sales and thrift stores.
Band t-shirts can show a lot about a person’s personality. With vintage t-shirts, the bands themselves become almost secondary to the value of the shirt alone. With so many t-shirts being considered vintage at this point, there will always be a few artists that will transcend the rest in terms of value. Rolling Stones t-shirts, Metallica t-shirts, or even Run DMC t-shirts are amongst the most expensive vintage t-shirts of all time.
Vintage t-shirts have given a new life to concert t-shirts. No longer do these shirts simply represent an individual’s memories and experiences, but now they become a snapshot of a band or artist’s career at a specific point in history. Vintage t-shirt collectors and popular celebrities alike have brought in an absolutely huge wave of older concert t-shirts finding newfound importance in culture.