Monday, October 24, 2011

'I warn you – don't throw them out'

My first was REM. It was white, loose, and had a chequerboard on the front. I bought it, secretly, from the back pages of NME; I ran for the postman every morning, before my mother did, to check if it had arrived. The day it came, I ran upstairs, locked the door and put it on. Fifteen years old, there I was in my first band T-shirt – and just like that, I felt part of something.

The band T-shirt is one of music's most potent totems. Pull one over your head and it points out an allegiance, however confident or timid the wearer. Six months ago, Ian Wade and I started a blog, My Band T-Shirt, to tell their stories: me beginning with an Orbital top given to me by a boyfriend, Ian following with a tale of living in a Blur top for a year.Inviting others to post stories, we were staggered by the emotions bundled up in them: people gave birth, lived and died in the shadow of their screenprint; life's rich tapestry revealed itself through these scraps of cotton.

Band T-shirts first appeared 50 or so years ago. Names of groups started popping up on children's clothes in the mid-60s, an extension of the trend for comic book T-shirts in Mad magazine. The Beatles and the Dave Clark Five were early adopters, two bands that understood merchandising. Then came the hippy phenomenon of tie-dye with a logo slapped on top. Johan Kugelberg, author of Vintage Rock T-Shirts, doesn't put their success down to the power of music, however. "What broke band T-shirts was mass distribution, just like everything else."


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