Cult item: band tee
By Sam Higgins, 7 July 2016
After breaking the sartorial shackles of its rock and metal beginnings in the 70s and 80s and rising to popularity through the mainstream music scene, the band T-shirt has constantly evolved from a statement of support to your favourite groups to a wardrobe regular. With designers reinventing iconic designs, stylish celebrities donning vintage versions, and artists giving more prominence to the cult classic, we’ve delved into the archives to find some of the finest examples of the band tee.
If the previous two decades set the foundations for the statement slogan tee, then we should see Morrissey on stage in the late 80s – peeling off his shirt slightly to reveal a white The Smiths top –as something of a benchmark in its progression. That’s because Morrissey used the band tee like a football shirt at his gigs – the pro wearing the real deal, while in front of him, adoring fans stand clad in replicas. At this point however, the fan fever hadn’t caught on to today’s extent and the tee remained no more than a souvenir – or for some, it was maybe a gentle reminder of who it was you watched at the local on Friday night.
As the band tee became a regular on the merch stands, its style status grew and a certain social cache attached itself to repping a band through your threads. Bands with iconic logos such as the Ramones or the Beatles saw their brands become so recognisable that wearing one no longer even signified fandom (leading to the inevitable ‘go on mate, name one song of theirs!’ demands). For the most part, however, the band tee stayed strong thanks to its ability to trend-jump and slot perfectly in both hip-hop and punk-inspired outfits. As Harry Styles demonstrates here, pledging allegiance to his icon Mick Jagger in a vintage, white, Rolling Stones tee, skinny black jeans and brown Chelsea boots.
Peak band tee
In the late noughties, musicians seemed to step up their style game with many crossing over to become bona fide fashion icons. And with that, band merch took a step up too. Kanye West’s Yeezus gear, for example, set the benchmark for the new wave of band tees, revitalising the classic metal-group font to produce arguably the closest thing to cult music memorabilia we’ve seen in some time. Here's the man himself displaying his oversized album tee in a grungy getup of black skinny jeans and nicely-worn-in brown Chelsea boots.
The sartorial statement
Fast forward to 2016 – the fears of false fandom have petered out and the cult item has taken up permanent residency in our wardrobes. But even now, the tee's transitioning to new levels, with the artists who have – in the past – been the biggest proponents of the band merch having their designs reworked into new cuts, oversized silhouettes and eye-catching patterns. A classic example being Bieber at last year's AMAs, who threw out the rule book on award-ceremony dress codes and paraded down the red carpet in this sleeveless, heart-printed, Nirvana tee.