We have all seen them on the streets, in lecture halls, on celebrities, and now on little kids. Band t-shirts are sweeping the nation, but is it worship of the music, or for the love of fashion? The screen print has changed what used to be an undergarment to a prominent wardrobe staple for Americans. But what makes the band t-shirt so popular? Are we all fans, or foes?
“It’s satisfying to see the effectiveness of my work… I believe in T-shirts as works of art. [They] are the single most important piece of popular culture. People want to identify with something” ¹
So says Arturo Vega, the creative director and muse for the Ramones. Today we see celebrities like Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton sporting vintage band tees, but do we really believe they are pledging their allegiance to Def Leppard? Vega wants to believe people are identifying with the Ramones in his artistic works, but because of rising trends in vintage tees the only things they are evoking are style magazines.
The vintage scene has crept back, but instead of scouring shelves of thrift stores or emptying out pockets for the original tour shirts, we can go pick up a mass-produced $15 shirt at Target. So not only is the band t-shirt trend big, but it’s a commercial gold mine. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe there are the die-hard music devotees out there, who support the creative processes of those like Vega. But when push comes to shove, parents are still picking Motley Crew over the Sesame Street gang for their little tykes.
One musician whose legend definitely lives on is, none other than, Bob Marley. It has been said that he continues to make around 40 million dollars a year from products like t-shirts. What keeps fans Rastafarian clad? Is it that green, yellow and red are “oh, so in!” this season? Unlikely. Marley lives on because he was an advocate of social change, which transpires in his music and the ever popular Bob Marley t-shirts. But are all band t-shirts inspired artistic works? Probably not.
Band t-shirts are two-fold. They can show loyalty to a particular group, or devotion to one of the hottest style movements in the 21st century. Will band tees outsell albums? Are they really contributing to creativity of bands? The cultural vs. commercial debacle could go on forever. Either way, rock on!
¹ Easby, Amber, and Henry Oliver. The Art of the Band T-shirt. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2007.