An Ode to the Band Shirt
Because their discussion was so often lead by tabloid media, graphic band shirts did not become a prominent topic until later in my life. The stereotypical Nirvana and Joy Division tees, worn by people who were attuned to popular culture but could not identify any of the bands’ songs, were unsuccessful in carving a niché. However, as the years went by, I found myself embracing the finer nuances of the music scene, one of which was going to a lot of live shows. Naturally, I started buying and wearing band shirts as a symbol of my support for the bands that I loved.
So, what makes a good band tee? Why did the Unknown Pleasures shirt become a staple of edgy teen fashion while the Atrocity Exhibition shirt faded into obscurity? The answer lies no further than in the aesthetics of the design. Below are pictures of me in some of my favorite band shirts. Note the consistency in the design. Minimalism is the name of the game when it comes to graphic shirts, and bands hold no exceptions. The more minimalistic the color composition, the longer the band shirt stays relevant. All of my favorite band shirts have this connection between their musical and visual styles. As a result, they remain popular choices among band shirt aficionados of today.
The Death Grips shirt is a garish example and shows off an important aspect of a successful band shirt: close visual representation of the bands’ music. It, like the music it recreates, is loud and too aggressive, but somehow still enjoyable.
Macintosh Plus’s sweater is aggressively normcore (a style of dressing that involves unfashionable clothes). Complete with washed-out pink and vaporwave emblems the music helped popularize, the drowsy texture matches the artists’ sound evenly: instantly warm and comfortable, something you can fall asleep to.
The Glowing Man shirt from Swans’ recent tour is minimalistic as well but the use of dark, earthy colors is a welcome deviation from the norm. The color scheme resembles repetitive, brutal guitar riffs which are oddly grounding.
Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition wears a more abstract interpretation of the album. Most of the design is located on the back, in stark contrast with the faint white noise on the front.
Chelsea Wolfe’s design recalls her metal influences with the monochrome scheme while the gentle font exemplifies her folksy side. Like all of the shirts, it is subtle, but still embodies the type of music that the artist creates.
Another fundamental aspect of a band shirt is a distinct look. The most common band shirt is black with white lettering, and often indistinguishable from the hundreds like it. I will avoid wearing such a shirt. The ability to immediately recall the music is necessary for the design to succeed.