The Strange Journey Of The Humble Band T-Shirt

From rock purists to high street ubiquity to - now - designer fad

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Originally worn by music diehards to pledge allegiance to their rock idols, the band T has undergone quite the journey in recent years, from the mosh pit to the high street to -  for the last 10 years or so - relative oblivion. Now it is entering perhaps the most remarkable phase in its history: as a luxe designer must-have for the iPhone age. 

Where once you could only pick up Ramones or Misfits merchandise from one of their sold-out sweat-drenched gigs or a shady Camden market stall; there arrived a period of time - let's say from about 1999-2007 - where the band t-shirt came to represent the epitome of shopping centre twattery, seen almost exclusively on the torsos of Simon Cowell battery farmed bands and their faceless teenage followers. After enough embarrassing conversations in which they were asked to actually name a Sex Pistols song, adopters both famous and otherwise of the trend seemed to acquire the good sense to stop and the band t-shirts seemed to return to the mosh pits from which they came. 

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But if you've been keeping an eye on the trendsetting movers and shakers on platforms like Instagram recently, you might have noticed the band t-shirt's unlikely reemergence, mixed with expensively disheveled grunge pieces and pricey streetwear - a kind of Supreme meets Seattle circa '94.

The DJ A-Trak joining the Metallica bandwagon at Coachella Festival 2016
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A noticeable example comes from the newly edgy Justin Bieber and his nightly get-ups on his latest tour, where he mixed pristine white running shoes - typically Adidas Ultra Boosts - with those dreadlocks, ripped jeans, flannels and 90s pop culture t-shirts that ran the gauntlet from Metallica to Marilyn Manson by way of Nirvana, and even a $1,500 Tupac number specifically designed for him by Jerry Lorenzo, Creative Director of upmarket streetwear brand Fear of God. 

Other fans of luxury labels who have hopped on the bandwagon include Kanye West, Rihanna, A$AP Rocky and even members of the Kardashian clan.

Justin Bieber and two of his designer 90s t-shirts
The rapper A$AP Rocky sporting flannel and a retro t-shirt

Upmarket fashion houses riffing on alternative music culture is hardly new, Saint Laurent has been doing it in recent years with its heroin-chic and grunge-inspired catwalk shows. Cult skate brand Supreme, meanwhile, recently featured Morrisey on a t-shirt that sold out in minutes, with some reappearing on ebay for up to £200. (The original retail price was about £40)

But this is the first time we're seeing the humble band t-shirt become an actual coveted designer item, worn by young trendy types who are prepared to pay a small fortune to be associated with Metallica or Led Zeppelin without, in many cases, having ever listened to one of their albums. 

Whether the t-shirts actually represent the bands or the music anymore is a Saussurean argument we'll leave for another time, but while the rock purists might be creaking in their comfortable chairs, the fashion world continues its love affair with all things 90s and niche in a trend that doesn't look like it is going away any time soon.