When I was a teenager, going to shows and seeing bands play was a sacred thing (in fact, it still is). Whether it was at an enormous arena or a dinky bar, the experience was not only exciting and constantly new, it shaped the way I experience music and fueled my desire to scour the internet for new musicians to find and enjoy. Likewise, band shirts were badges of honor. Sure it sounds silly, but that’s what being a teenager is all about. Tour t-shirts said that you were there and you saw it. But somewhere down the line something as simple as a ratty old t-shirt became a commodity. Nevermind the music, it’s the classic artwork and vintage graphics that count. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be old, they can make it look old and sell it everywhere. When did a musician’s artwork supersede the music they created?
At some point in the early aughts, a certain massive retailer of middle America (you know of whom I speak) began stocking their shelves with brand new Ramones, Rolling Stones and Beatles t-shirts. At first, the whole concept had me confounded. Grab a band shirt, then stroll to the cereal isle to pick up some Wheaties? “What are band shirts even doing here,” I wondered. The answer isn’t complicated. This particular chain store virtually sustains many small towns, it’s only logical that deals would land shirts with Aerosmith and Pink Floyd in their stores. It didn’t happen quickly, but a change had arrived.
Of course, there have always been places to buy shirts supporting musicians in every shopping center from Portland, Washington to Portland, Maine, but not between the tire center and ladies’ delicates. Suddenly a classic band shirt was on par with a pair of Levis or a car battery. The idea was simple: a musician’s artwork was separate from a musician’s life’s work. Now, vintage band shirts are fashion statements. They provide some edge to a denim outfit. Over-sized shirts double as makeshift dresses.
Yes, band shirts were always an offbeat fashion staple, but those wearing them actually listened to the music. They loved the music. They were supporting artists who’d changed their lives, not looking for something that matched their shoes.
A night huddled with my friends in the corner of a dingy venue, watching struggling young musicians give it their all was exhilarating and important to me. The band shirts I collected are each tokens of dear memories. So, if you own a Pink Floyd t-shirt simply because you like the artwork and enjoy classic vintage stuff, please do yourself a favor: listen to Pink Floyd. Just give it a try. It only gets better from there.