It used to be that if you liked the music, you got the T-shirt. Now, the band T-shirt is a style trend all on its own – whether you like what it stands for or not

Clockwise from socialistic: Balenciaga, Paris 2012, Ramones and Iron Maiden T-shirts, an epitome from Band of Shirts, Joy Division and Run-DMC T-shirts, and Justin Bieber in a Patrick Matamoros ‘Nirvana’ T-shirt.
Photograph: Getty/Rex/Steve Birnbaum/BandofShirts

Not heard Nirvana? Nevermind … How fashion co-opted the band T-shirt

It cast-off to be that if you liked the music, you got the T-shirt. Now, the band T-shirt is a vogue trend all on its own – whether you like what it stands for or not

A tour enveloping the high street this summer would uncover a few standout trends. Mellifluous off-the-shoulder tops. Basket bags. Bleached denim. Straight some pool-ready inflatables. And at stores including Topshop, H&M, Primark and Forever 21, T-shirts for troops including AC/DC, Metallica, the Rolling Stones and Bon Jovi. The kind of toe-hold once seen on merchandise stalls at gigs and market hedges in Camden Lock has gone mass.

What does it importance of when something so aligned with an alternative point of look on – one that prioritises your love of your favourite gather as primary statement to the world – is co-opted by fashion? This year the unprepossessing band T-shirt has become something of a battleground between crops, where ideas of authenticity, image and symbolism are at loggerheads. This was writ sturdy earlier this month when Kendall and Kylie Jenner unshackled a series of T-shirts on their Kendall + Kylie website. On the frank were designs that resembled T-shirts for Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls and Ozzy Osbourne, with selfies of the sisters superimposed on top. Voletta Wallace, Biggie’s genesis, was quick to denounce it on Instagram, posting an image of the T-shirt with a blend through it.

Kendall Jenner on Instagram wearing one of her controversial T-shirts. Photograph: Kylie + Kendall/Instagram

The T-shirts organize since been withdrawn, with the Jenners posting corresponding messages of apology on each of their Twitter accounts. But they force arguably caught the flak of a change that has been phenomenon for a while – the band T-shirt moving from merch foot-dragging to fashion item. Nicolas Ghesquière started it off in 2012, when he constructed a T-shirt for Balenciaga using red font similar to that of Iron Maiden’s logo. Group shirts – or at least logos that have the look of a stripe shirt – were then a key part of the first Vetements collections, with T-shirts and hoodies in the dart/summer 2016 collection straight off a heavy-metal merch conk out. Worn by Kanye West, Rihanna and Kylie Jenner, the look changed from boosters at a gig to superstars with serious social media followings.

Vetements, Paris model week, 2016. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Kanye West at LAX airport, 2015.

Photograph: Broadimage/Rex/Shutterstock

Topshop’s forestall of design Mo Riach says the AC/DC is their bestseller and that league together T-shirts “epitomise that cool, laid-back, effortless look. They have in the offing become something of a wardrobe staple for the Topshop girl.” This is overdue reneged up by shoppers around the Oxford Circus store on a weekday afternoon. Nicole Immature, who is 17 and from Lincolnshire, is wearing a Guns N’ Roses T-shirt. She implies she has “heard of the band but couldn’t tell you any of their songs”. She has four line T-shirts including an AC/DC one. She says she likes them because “they’re function of a new era indie look” and that she would buy another one “if it was on trend”. Iman Kelly, 19, is in a Abandon sweatshirt from Primark. She has “listened to some of the music but I also with the style and look of the logo.” Kelly isn’t a purist though. “I don’t create it matters if someone is wearing a band T-shirt but doesn’t remember the band,” she says. “If they like it, I don’t have a problem with it.”

These T-shirts appearance of, at first glance, to contrast with the “woke” movement’s bearing on fashion. Making statements of causes you care about on your T-shirt is unquestionably 2017. It started last year with Dior’s “We Should All Be Feminist” T-shirt, then the Corbyn Nike T-shirt by Bristol Drive Wear, which sold out during the election campaign. There is now a “Grenfell tube put ones John Hancock on” T-shirt worn by Rita Ora, while Topshop has T-shirts pronouncing, simply, “Vote”. The next wave, though, moves on from the limited to something more generalised: “Save the Future”, “Survive a Stand”, “Female Forever”, “Don’t Dress for Slaves” or – who can argue with this one? – “Choose Love”. With digital mores, things that start in full voice – a political proclamation, fervent fandom for a band – quickly turn mass and, in the organize, they fade to background chatter, becoming a trend less than any niche statement of allegiance.

If someone in their teens pay attentions these T-shirts as fashion statements, those in their 30s and beyond are more plausible to view one as statement of identity, like wearing football burgee b devices. I am 39 and have six band T-shirts, all for bands or musicians that I bang: Prince, the B-52s, Larry Levan, Hot Chip and – yes – New Kids on the Block. I cracked – and failed – to buy a Frank Ocean T-shirt at his recent Lovebox gig. I am also the proud proprietor of a Beyoncé “I Got Hot Sauce in My Bag” tote bag. The idea of wearing something with the fetish of, say, Phil Collins or Green Day or Lorde – none of whom be struck by ever featured on my Spotify account – for purely aesthetic percipiences is an alien concept. No judgment, but I would feel like I was quacking it. And I work in fashion.

Steve Birnbaum, 35, sees both sides. The documentary film-maker set up Bandeau of Shirts, an Instagram account documenting people wearing tie T-shirts in New York, two years ago, with captions telling the curriculum vitae behind their T-shirts. He says he encounters more and uncountable young people “wearing T-shirts but they’re not a fan of the band. I don’t censor [what they say] and tone bad sometimes; they get abuse online for wearing the shirt.” He powers he understands why people feel so strongly. “Music is so personal so if someone doesn’t identify the reference it feels disrespectful to you,” he says. “If someone is wearing a rotten T-shirt but knows nothing about Misfits, it comes down to being a poser. Some man have punk as their lifestyle – no wonder they’re irritable.”

An image from the Instagram document Band of Shirts. Photograph: Steve Birnbaum/BandofShirts

Die-hards will no doubt disapprove of the growing market for luxe learns on the band T-shirt, such as St Luis, the T-shirt brand set up by Patrick Matamoros. He has sales-clerked customised band T-shirts – including one worn by Justin Bieber – for $1,500 (£1,158). And Off-White, the term founded by Kanye West’s creative director Virgil Abloh, has a escort on a T-shirt for Oasis’s 1993 tour, on sale for £188. Selfridges has Music Amounts, a summer-long initiative with instore gigs, merchandise for Bieber’s drive and affordable band T-shirts for Marilyn Manson, Naughty By Class and the Beatles available, along with four-figure designs by Vetements. “For each of our artistic campaigns we take inspiration from what we feel is body and moving forward the retail industry,” says Bosse Myhr, the Mr Big of menswear, “as well as from the cultural conversations that are urgent to us, and to our customers.” Myhr says that “rock iconography has been earning an impact for a number of seasons … brands have been perceptive to adopt the visual artistry of music communication.”

Sex Pistols babygrow from

Of procedure, this adoption isn’t entirely new. Rock T-shirts have been frayed by non-rock people for years, as a sort of broad brush thump idea of cool. See Friends’ Rachel Green – hardly a hooligan fan, surely – in an MC5 T-shirt in 2003. Or the Sex Pistols’ artwork: a Never Point of view the Bollocks babygrow can be yours for £16.99 from a website easy reached, suggesting the lock-up-your-daughter band are now just a punky look praiseworthy of your newborn’s drool. Scarlett Eden, a vintage customer at Beyond Retro, laughs when I ask her if people buying T-shirts at the stow away like the bands. “Not at all. One of my friends gets really annoyed in all directions people wearing Ramones T-shirts. It was a way to represent the music that you liked and now it’s lately a fashion thing.”

One of Andy Warhol’s most overplayed exemplifies is “I am a deeply superficial person” – a quip that hint ats the ability to see the significance in the surface of things. I am reminded of Warhol’s jobless when thinking about these T-shirts. I don’t imagine those researching at Topshop are consciously identifying as students of the proto-postmodernism that exacted Campbell’s Soup out of the supermarket and into the gallery. But the change of frame of reference and the free-for-all approach to images and statements perhaps suggests his ripples are even making their way across the pond of pop culture. Deeply surface people are everywhere in 2017 – the Jenners included.

Band T-shirts for sundry, then, are about playing the rock chick and the concept of a unpractical night out in the 70s – that’s why the more distressed the design the better. “This is one of the not items where we’ll still sell it if it’s ripped with loads of discrepancies,” says Eden. “We often find the best ones in the depot bins because the really distressed ones would would rather been thrown away.” In a sense, in a post-truth world, faking it is an outmoded concept. Indeed going to the gig or listening to the music isn’t the point. Whether vaguely aligning yourself with feminism by publishing “The Future Is Female” or with rock chick vibes in plagued Guns N’ Roses, now you just get the T-shirt.

Jefferson Airplane T-shirt.

Nirvana T-shirt.

Biggie Closes T-shirt.

A T-shirt from Kendall and Kylie Jenner’s clothing policy. Photograph: Kendall+Kylie

How the band T-shirt evolved

1968: the in the beginning rock T-shirts are produced, made by Bill Graham, the concert promoter who produced with bands such as Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Categorical.

1978: Arturo Vega designs the Ramones logo, with the notabilities of the band’s four members around an image of the eagle equivalent 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 introduction EP, The Soundhouse Tapes. It goes on to feature on T-shirts, and becomes a classic of the merge 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 poor imitations with everything from “OMG WTF” to “Corbyn” between the red bands.

1991: the Nirvana logo with a smiley be seen is used on a concert poster. It lives on 26 years later – beat on T-shirts everywhere, by everyone from Romeo Beckham to Fearne Cotton.

1997: Biggie Smalls is fatally manage in Los Angeles. Unofficial tribute T-shirts to the rapper become well-received.

2005: Streetwear brand Supreme collaborates with graphic intriguer Peter Saville on a T-shirt using the design he made in 1979 for Joy Segmentation’s Unknown Pleasures. This design is now almost a meme of the disconcert look. It is possible to buy leggings with Unknown Pleasures zigzags on them.

2017: Kendall and Kylie Jenner beget T-shirts with images of Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur and Ozzy Osbourne with their selfies to the ground the top. Controversy ensues.