For years the t-shirt has been an essential part of the unofficial uniform worn by rock fans. The denim jeans would be joined by the t-shirt worn on generally not tucked in. Sometimes the t-shirt would be covered by a denim or leather jacket. As the genres of rock changed sometimes the type of shirt changed with it, the “mods” loved to wear suits so the dress shirt was worn, while the “new romantics” would go a step further wearing wing collared shirts to go with their bow ties. However, generally most rock followers would wear a simple t-shirt but what was important was what was imprinted on it.
The original rock and roll artists such as Elvis Presley were more than happy to wear just a simple plain white t-shirt. Many of the early artists were influenced by the late James Dean so the simple “rebel look” was all the rage as the 1960s approached. The onset of heavy rock brought along the anti-authority feelings so any resemblance with looking clean cut and tidy was completely ignored. Long hair became popular and untidiness became the norm and the appearance of youths changed drastically. As the big rock concerts emerged the bands found that a good way of raising revenue was to print and sell t-shirts with the band’s picture, or logo, on it. This was the start of the rock t-shirts resulting in companies who used screen printing and tie dying to imprint the group picture on a shirt.
One of the first bands to be featured on a t-shirt were the Grateful Dead and it wasn’t long before other musicians were taking advantage of this potentially money making idea. Already the markets were awash with political figures on t-shirts like Che Guevara and even political protestors would wear t-shirts with slogans on stating their grievances.
The shirts would sometimes reflect tours that were being undertaken. One of the most famous was the 1975 tour t-shirt that was sold by the Ramones. This was just one of many t-shirts printed about the American punk band as they were so recognizable by their look. The Late 1970s saw the emergence of the punk rock genre and this was ideal for the t-shirt producers. The Sex Pistols started the craze and the picture cover of their album “Never mind the Bollocks” appeared on may shirts. They also released a single called “God Save the Queen” and the art work for that song was also used on t-shirts.
The London band were managed by the clothes designers Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westward and the whole punk genre created a new line in fashion wear that the pair made the very most of. There were numerous t-shirts about the band, the performers and their records.
As new groups were created their colorful and photogenic image proved to be popular for the t-shirt manufacturers. One of the most famous t-shirts to be produced was of the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood. In 1984 the BBC banned a song by the group called Relax due to the sexual innuendo of the lyrics. This resulted in the song becoming so popular it went to number 1 in the charts.
The owner of the bands record label Paul Morley had the idea of producing a t-shirt with the slogan, “Frankie says Relax”. The shirt has become one of the biggest sellers of all time and really was the start of every band producing their own shirt and many of them were slogan t-shirts. The British group Wham would parade around in t-shirts with their slogan proudly emblazoned “Number one”.
Looking back at history some of the most famous rock t-shirts have the simplest designs. The ACDC t-shirt is simple yet so effective when the red logo is printed on a black shirt and it is the same with the The Who’s t-shirt. This involved using an RAF roundel as the group would wear it on their clothing during the 1960s. As time passed other mod bands such as the Jam adopted the roundel and used it on their t-shirts, bearing their name. A simple idea that proved so popular.
T-shirts have become a popular item to wear when followers want to be associated with a band.