IN­FORMER: ROCK T-SHIRTS

Maxim - - CONTENTS - In­tro­duc­tion by ANN POW­ERS

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.

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