It used to be that if you liked the music, you got the T-shirt. Now, the band T-shirt is a fashion trend all on its own – whether you like what it stands for or not
Atour around the high street this summer would uncover a few standout trends. Pretty off-the-shoulder tops. Basket bags. Bleached denim. Even some pool-ready inflatables. And at stores including Topshop, H&M, Primark and Forever 21, T-shirts for bands including AC/DC, Metallica, the Rolling Stones and Bon Jovi. The kind of purchase once seen on merchandise stalls at gigs and market stalls in Camden Lock has gone mass.
What does it mean when something so aligned with an alternative point of view – one that prioritises your love of your favourite band as primary statement to the world – is co-opted by fashion? This year the humble band T-shirt has become something of a battleground between generations, where ideas of authenticity, image and symbolism are at loggerheads. This was writ large earlier this month when Kendall and Kylie Jenner released a series of T-shirts on their Kendall + Kylie website. On the front were designs that resembled T-shirts for Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls and Ozzy Osbourne, with selfies of the sisters superimposed on top. Voletta Wallace, Biggie’s mother, was quick to denounce it on Instagram, posting an image of the T-shirt with a cross through it. Kendall Jenner on Instagram wearing one of her controversial T-shirts. Photograph: Kylie + Kendall/Instagram
The T-shirts have since been withdrawn, with the Jenners posting identical messages of apology on each of their Twitter accounts. But they have arguably caught the flak of a change that has been happening for a while – the band T-shirt moving from merch stall to fashion item. Nicolas Ghesquière started it off in 2012, when he produced a T-shirt for Balenciaga using red font similar to that of Iron Maiden’s logo. Band shirts – or at least logos that have the look of a band shirt – were then a key part of the first Vetements collections, with T-shirts and hoodies in the spring/summer 2016 collection straight off a heavy-metal merch stall. Worn by Kanye West, Rihanna and Kylie Jenner, the look changed from fans at a gig to superstars with serious social media followings.