There’s something about a band t-shirt. It’s either a statement of fandom or irony. Or just great taste in design. Though, no matter how well a concert t-shirt is designed, no one who isn’t a fan and didn’t enjoy the concert is going to wear it. (Unless said tee is a classic and coveted piece of apparel from an album or tour or concert of legend.) Because not only are t-shirts statements of personal aesthetic, they’re also souvenirs of particular events and moments and memories.
Then again, maybe the best ones are the best just for being rad. The lead vote-getting shirt on Labyrinthe’s Top 10 Rock T-Shirts of All Time poll is Iron Maiden‘s “The Trooper,” for the 1983 single written about the Crimean War Battle of Balaclava, fought in 1854. It features the band’s undead, Union Jack-toting mascot, Eddie.
“When you are young and exploring all the magic that rock and roll offers, wearing a shirt of your favorite band feels like an act of defiance,” says HustonPress on its blog about The Top 20 Iconic Rock T-Shirts of All Time. That roundup leads with Death to the Pixies, from that band’s first best-of compilation.
The album’s front cover is an image of a green rock; the t-shirt is white on black and, under the text, a small, nude and crouching Frank Black/Black Francis (the Pixies’ front man) gives a glaring thumbs-down. (Want to read more about the impact of that album, along with thoughts on band t-shirts? Check out Gary Smith’s 1997 blog post, here.)
Wearing a band t-shirt is “a way to let people know that you’re down with the latest shit,” says Complex.com’s style section. The blog offered its picks of The Best New Indie Band T-Shirts, including The Whigs Flying Tiger tee (which can also be found on virtual style community Polyvore, if you want to figure out how to wear it in an outfit.
And the Playground Perv shirt from Man Man (which came with a pair of 3D glasses). And Surfer Blood’s Astro Coast shirt (the pulsar design gets referenced as “a wonderfully enigmatic symbol” in last fall’s Joy Division documentary).
The blog also lists Grizzly Bear’s Persian-cats-gone-rogue tee, by artist J. Penry. The same shirt was featured, along with the band’s two-headed-trout tee (by Brendan Donelly), on fashion and trend blog Refinery29. Both were modeled by band members Chris Bear and Daniel Rossen.
Folk-rockers Langhorne Slim & The Law often work with local designs in the towns they visit, and the road warrior band — which admits it tours even between tours — tends to introduce new t-shirt designs not just for each tour but for individual legs of tours. “We’ll have this brand new shirt for sale on our upcoming tour with The Lumineers! What do you think?” the band posted, in January, on its Facebook page.
And, because, ultimately, best shirts come down to what fans want to wear, The Guardian asked its readers to submit their favorite band shirts by posting photos on Instagram and using the tag bestbandtee. Find more favorites here.