Fashions come and go by definition, yet there are some articles of clothing that never go out of fashion completely. Usually an innovation comes along, or a peripheral trend drags them back into the public eye. For example, I’m thinking about denim jeans which have been a dominating and iconic item of clothing for decades, yet which seem to come in and out of vogue depending on other factors such as celebrity endorsement or innovation in styles of cuts. Another fashion classic is the music or band t-shirt. Are band t-shirts dead? Should they be consigned to the fashion room 101 along with stapress slacks and chunky cardigans with leather patches on the elbows? No, says this music t-shirt fan. Music and band t-shirts are still rocking on.
Where t-shirts began
T-shirts used to be undergarments. Nondescript items of clothing and nothing to shout about. That all changed when James Dean famously wore his classic white T-shirt in Rebel Without a Cause. Suddenly T-shirts because a youth item, a rebellious item of clothing that defied the formal shirt and tie wearing older generation. However, the shirts were plain. Mainly white in fact. In the late 1950’s however, things were about to change with the invention of a new meatless Seattle material called plastisol ink which made it possible to print durable designs onto clothing. T-shirts continued to be the clothing of the rebellious throughout the sixties, when tie dying and other processes gave them a further surge in popularity. Bands also began to use t-shirts as a means of promotion, as did concerts where they were sold as souvenirs.
Music tees hit the mainstream
Thus, t-shirts moved into the mainstream as dress styles shifted away from the formal suit and ties of the early sixties to the more casual look. Iron on transfers arrived in the 1970s which enabled t-shirt stores to open up in every town and shopping centre printing almost unlimited t-shirt designs. No trip to the seaside was complete without the acquisition of a cool new t-shirt, printed to order.
The punk explosion of the mid 1970’s then gave t-shirts a whole new lease of life with designers such as Vivienne Westwood adapting and creating outrageous new t-shirt designs using pop art images, safety pins and shocking prints. Once again, they became a potentially edgy and important fashion statement.
Through the nineties, t-shirts became less of a fashion statement and more of a middle of the road safe clothing staple. All bands now promote themselves, their tours, and their albums using t-shirts alongside other media. In fact, t-shirt sales are still a major source of income from band tours, and many tours are accompanied by exclusive gig only t-shirts that can’t be bought anywhere else. They remain associated strongly with music, but also with any other form of popular culture. Where teenagers might show their allegiances to beliefs, bands or television shows by wearing button badges, most adults now do the same using t-shirts, as button badges are generally considered less acceptable for the older generation. Because band and music tees have been around since the 60’s, there are now 50+ years of designs for music t-shirt companies to plunder and reissue, and there are many classic t-shirt designs still available today. Major bands like The Beatles and Pink Floyd have dozens if not hundreds of officially licensed t-shirts on sale from a wide range of sources. Television shows like Southpark, The Simpsons and Family Guy are also popular t-shirt targets and grown ups of any age can proudly, and subtly (or so they hope!) show their hipness by sporting a particular t-shirt when out and about. Dress down Fridays at workplaces (where formal clothes are normally worn between Monday to Thursday) are a great opportunity for those considered stuffy and out of touch to correct what they might consider to be a misconception. In the UK, t-shirts are more popular than ever at the moment with skinny fit t-shirts being particularly appealing to skinny youths, while the wider folk amongst us still reach for the Large to XXL. All the hippest bands whether young or old, or fresh or established have t-shirts available. Lady Ga Ga, The Killers, Lily Allen, Snow Patrol, Morrissey, The Gallows etc. For fans of Heavy Metal, t-shirts, usually black, have been a staple since the mid 70’s onwards and there are some fantastic metal t-shirts available for fans of bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slipknot, Slayer, Motorhead etc. and the graphic designs on these shirts are legendary and unique amongst the music t-shirt industry as most other genres tend to focus on band photos or album covers.