INFORMER: ROCK T-SHIRTS
AN EXHAUSTIVE GUIDE TO VINTAGE TEES
A ROCK ’N’ ROLL T-SHIRT isn’t just a piece of cotton underwear made fashionable through the magic of screen printing. It’s a declaration of loyalty, of belonging. It’s a way of saying “This is me” to every stranger who walks by. Sometimes it’s a wink, sometimes a middle finger, sometimes an invitation. The shirt is the symbol of an attitude. And an attitude, rendered in ink on fabric, can long outlast the cultural moment that gave it life. It can survive countless tumbles in the dryer. Which is why when you run across a shirt you owned years before— adorned with the Dead’s skull-and-roses logo or the words RIDE THE LIGHTNING— in a vintage store, $300 might
actually seem like a fair price. This isn’t just a shirt you’re buying, after all. It’s a work of art, a piece of history, and a statement of identity all at once.
Then again, it’s never too late to start anew, with a shirt fresh off a merch stand (or out of the back of a van, depending on the band). It will need some breaking in, but it’s surely more rock ’n’ roll than flashing an Amex and playing catch-up on the secondary market. Besides, T-shirts are a pillar of the economics of rock, especially now that recordings, reduced to easily shared code, don’t bring in as much cash as they once did. Buying a T-shirt is often the best way to ensure that an artist can continue to make music.
A T-shirt is an investment, financial and emotional. It shows support in a way that no amount of streaming ever can, because simple selfassertion is the essence of the rock T-shirt: It’s the sartorial equivalent of screaming along with a chorus or throwing your hands in the air. These wearable texts contain history that’s highly personal. At the same time, certain T-shirt images—pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon pyramid, the Sex Pistols one with never mind the bollocks in black and the band’s name in pink—speak of a time and tone so clearly that even people who haven’t heard those bands’ music have some idea of what it sounds like.
As a conveyor of messages, the T-shirt can’t be improved. It is iconography on a chest, a kind of armor. Choosing Nirvana over Taylor Swift—or vice versa—makes a powerful and unmistakable statement. But perhaps most important is the way a T-shirt draws others in. Its wearer both stands out from the crowd and belongs to something bigger. The shirt is a beacon. Compatriots are drawn toward the wearer, all bound by the communal rebel spirit of rock. We are one, they all say. We own this.