[sic] Magazine

T-shirt etiquette

We all have a band t-shirt don’t we? Possibly several. Worn with pride these are our badges of honour, symbols of unswerving band loyalty…

…or… maybe we just liked the cool design.

And yet band t-shirts can be a protocol minefield. Whether you are 15 years old or 55 there’s an etiquette to wearing one, confusing do’s and don’ts which seem to differ from one persons perspective to another. Fret no longer. I’m here give you my two cents, (or should I say twenty quids worth) and help to clarify this topic once and for all.

1) Must I know the bands music?

For a number of years now the cheap, High Street clothing retailers have been putting out low-priced t-shirts of iconic bands and album covers. It was only natural that many of these fell into the hands of …(drum roll)…the youth. The next development to this generational schism was for many of us grizzled old musos to scoff at the willowy millennials in their crisp new Ramones and Joy Division tees. “They shouldn’t be wearing them”, we declared. “They don’t even know the music”. Whilst I might agree that certain designs have become more than a little clichéd I’m actually going to challenge conventional wisdom here. What exactly is so wrong with it? If these kids are even remotely curious about the stuff that we loved, for any reason whatsoever, I’m all for it. It isn’t their fault that they weren’t around ‘at the time’. Indeed I know many a person who bought Factory and 4AD records purely on the strength of the cover art. I don’t see too much difference.

Another thing I often hear is that these “hipsters” should ‘know at least three songs’. That’s a bizarre metric isn’t it? Why three exactly? I mean, in the case of Ramones that’d take you ten minutes tops and still leave time for a cigarette. Three songs? Not sure about that one but…hey ho.

Here’s what I say to such snobbery:

Do – wear whatever the heck you want to wear.

Don’t – listen to cynics and killjoy elitists. However, and it’s up to you of course, but maybe just don’t buy that stuff from, say, Primark.

a) it’s cheap labour,
b) it’s badly made and will shrink and crease to fuck,
c) you’re basically advertising that you shop in Primark,
d) the band gets little to nothing out of it.

Have a browse by all means. Then go and source that t-shirt you liked from the official websites. To be honest, most of those High St offerings are horrible anyway. Get one quality tee rather than three cheapos. Believe me you’ll love wearing it ten times as much. Want a Bowie tee? Find a classic design. Heroes, Low, Ziggy… not some horrendous hotchpotch.

2) What’s allowed at a gig?

Firstly I think we are all hoping that covid19 would slink into the background and we can have concerts back again. Assuming this would be the case, what are the rules for wearing a band tee to a show? Popular opinion suggests that you wear the headline band t-shirt to their own gigs. I never do this. Band shirts exist for two reasons, a) to champion that band, and b) to show other people that you like said band. Let’s take The National as an example. At their show, everyone else in that room is there to see The National. They know this. You know this. So what is the point of wearing an item that basically states, ‘Hey, I like The National’. There’s none. Me, I’d wear a Tindersticks or Madrugada t-shirt to basically ‘educate’ the audience. Or I’d make an ironic statement by wearing something like Taylor Swift.

Oh, wait…

Some…. t-shirts

You can be even more subtle with it. Wear a Neil Young t-shirt to Radiohead and you might find yourself chatting to Thom Yorke.

What about the t-shirts they sell at shows? These are fine. It’s a personal choice. What I don’t especially like is the bundling queue to get one. I’m tall but I’m lanky so I tend to need a UK XL for the length. But the width can vary enormously. I want a t-shirt not a tent. If I don’t therefore at least hold the t-shirt up to myself to check it can be catastrophic. And who wants to do that at a concert hall, trying to look cool in front of everyone else? Me neither. Now some artists run their own merchandise stands. The Boxer Rebellion are one such band. They’d go offstage and re-appear seconds later at the merch desk, still dripping and ready to sign all the stuff their fans buy. As a result my Union t-shirt never quite fit me properly but at least I got to meet four lovely blokes. (Miss you Todd) In fact the first time I saw them live I was wearing The National, Boxer. (T-shirt just said Boxer. See what I did there!) Turns out they were fans too. It broke the ice and that’s how I got to know them.

Please do avoid the temptation to buy the knock-offs that get sold outside the venue. When you exit the cold air will hit you at the same time as the dreadful realisation; ‘Yes, I really DID want that t-shirt that I spent ten minutes umming and erring about inside and then left anyway’. Don’t buy one outside. Sure you’ll save yourself a buck with the counterfeiters but none of what you spent goes to the band. Purchase direct from the band merch desk or website, keep them afloat and we might just get another album. Simples.

Festivals? Honestly they’re an irrelevance here. Focus on good boots and protection from the elements. Even if the sun is shining it is not the place for your treasured, No 1 t-shirt. The risk of a ketchup spill is fairly high. There’s also a reasonable prospect of an unsavoury liquid projectile. (Yes it looks the same colour as lager. Pray that it is!) Don’t go to Festivals to be ‘seen’. Instead pack a large black bin liner. Seriously. This doubles both as a handy groundsheet as well as makeshift poncho if the heavens open. You’re welcome.

Don’t buy a Festival t-shirt either. You’ll probably get given two from the sponsors (and a ridiculous hat). Just focus on the day. You spent your hard earned money getting tickets and time getting in. Just enjoy yourself.

I’m not a fan of pimping band t-shirts with shiny gems or sequins. The shirt is the shirt IMHO. I’m also not personally really big into old tour t-shirts. I know many others are as it kinda shows how dedicated you are. For me I’m more about creating curiosity rather than bragging that I saw U2 at Red Rock for example. (Yes I was one of the ones singing 40 but I was probably wearing my The Sound t-shirt at the time.) All this said, old is fine (I love vintage) and holes are also fine. It’s your t-shirt. Love it.

I mostly favour those tees that contain images but no band name. Ideally the images should speak for themselves. Unknown Pleasures never actually displayed the words Unknown Pleasures nor even Joy Division on the original album cover, just those famous squiggly lines. Even if that shirt has become the music fashion cliché, if I found one with no writing on it, I’d still buy one now. These are as rare as hens teeth so good luck finding one.

3) Can I wear my band t-shirt outside of music?

Hell yeah. Wear ‘em in all walks. The more non-musical the better! (Although perhaps not in Court nor at a funeral come to think of it.) As you might have picked up already, I like to subvert expectations and also (sometimes) to stand out a bit. I’m the kind of guy who wears a Pompey shirt to gigs in Manchester and The Chameleons t-shirt to Fratton Park. That’s me. I never saw the point in wearing replica sport kit to the actual game. You see, the Spaceman Method allows for something I call cross pollination. You’re at event X wearing t-shirt Y and someone notices. Most won’t bat an eyelid but maybe just the odd one will pick up on your particular eccentricities. Now things are getting interesting. It’s that moment when you realise someone else might be…

…a bit like you.

And that, my friends, is when the magic happens. A nascent new friendship? Maybe even a romance. More likely in my experience to simply be that classic, British ‘nod of approval to a stranger’ before we each shuffle sheepishly off in different directions. One day, mark my words, one day it’ll be lightning in a bottle. So until that day, dear reader…

…wear what you love and love what you wear.

Brett Spaceman was last seen at Tate Modern wearing an epic45 t-shirt and speaking to one of the Kardashians.