The band shirt is the fundamental item of any metal heads wardrobe, and if you don’t own way more than you could ever wear, are you even a metal head? Wearing a band shirt is like wearing your heart on your sleeve as it’s a window into your soul and shows off your music tastes for the whole world to see. Rock and heavy metal is about way more than just the music; it’s about glimpsing that guy or girl from across the street wearing a faded Metallica shirt, knowing you’re not alone, no matter what background you come from, it makes you family. Perhaps a dysfunctional, twisted and questionable one, but a family none the less. This can occasionally attract members of your chosen tribe producing successful conversation starters that can sometimes result in lifelong friendships.
Whether it’s nu metal titans Slipknot or metal-core bad boys Bring Me The Horizon, no one will ever come close to the band shirt empire that pioneers of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) Iron Maiden have built for themselves and the surrounding rock community. When attending any metal gig, not only will you see fans wearing that band’s shirt, but there will also always be without fail at least one Iron Maiden shirt in the sea of black clothing, regardless of if they’re on the line-up. Within their catalogue there’s an image for every one of their studio albums, single releases, live recordings, tour campaigns, video game and beer, but there’s only one face behind the six-man band: Eddie’s. The skeletal undead figure of Eddie is the staple addition to any metal wardrobe, and Iron Maiden’s PR William Luff knows just how iconic and imperative Eddie is to the band and their fans as he says; “He’s a fantasy figure and can be historic, futuristic, tribal, menacing, humorous or what the band – and their fans – wish him to be. Whether it’s on the band’s album covers, on t-shirts or tour posters, Eddie has been the ‘face’ of Iron Maiden and as such is arguably more famous than any individual band member.”
Eddie works so well for the band because he can be warped and customised to fit into whatever tone the new release or tour requires of him. Luff adds that “by having Eddie on the band’s artwork and merchandise, Iron Maiden has always had a hugely recognisable icon that sets them apart from other bands.”
While the abundance of bands and magnitude of designs makes for a similar scene to that of a small child in a sweet shop, the sheer vastness of choices can often leave us feeling a little overwhelmed and perplexed as to what to spend our money on. Of course merchandise is made and marketed for you, the fans, and you’re the only ones that could know what you would want. So what makes us choose certain designs over others? 20 year old Amon Amarth and Slipknot fan Will Le Bas, who is the proud owner of over 30 band t-shirts, “would prefer album artwork over other art, the quality and style of the graphics influences my choice too,” and professional chef and Asking Alexandria fan Nathan Samson would “prefer all over designs instead of just on the front or the back, not many people I see wear all-over shirts so I think it makes you stand out.” On the other side of the spectrum there’s 21 year old photographer Zoey Gibbons with an admirable total of 15 band shirts that “tends to go for designs that will fade okay over time, black and white usually as they go with most of my clothes.”
Not only are band shirts an imperative stereotype to be embraced by fans, but the manufacture of these sought after garments are a God send to the musicians behind them as well. Due to the introduction of music streaming sites fans can now listen to music for a very small fee, or in some cases no fee at all, and this has had a drastic affect on how artists make their money. The Album is not what it once was thanks to tailored playlists, and so bands now heavily rely on touring and merchandise sales, which has lead to a price increase of tickets and t-shirts, estimating at £20/£25. Will recognises that “after you’ve taken out the production and shipping costs, along with the licensing fees, there still has to be profit for the band and staff members.” Good news for the artists though as it’s lucky that rock and heavy metal listeners are infamously some of the most dedicated and loyal fans out there as Zoey explains “when I buy a band shirt I see it as helping out the band and if you’re buying it from the gig itself you’re also paying for the memory and experience, so I don’t mind the cost.”
Back in the 80s when stadium rock was at its peak, Bon Jovi and Guns N’ Roses tees were the standard apparel for even the average Joe, but those days are gone, and they’re now looked back on with retro nostalgia. It’s no surprise to see then that there has been a rise in iconic band shirts being sold in shops along the local high street in chain retailers like Top Shop and Primark with knock-off designs at cheap prices, prying on the latter mentioned thirst for nostalgia. Human as we are, you’ve probably seen someone wearing a badly faded Nirvana shirt and judging a book by its cover thought to yourself, ‘they don’t listen to Nirvana,’ and 9/10 times you’ve probably been right. An understandable pet peeve of the metal community, attempting to start a conversation with someone wearing a shirt of the band you love and they admit they had no idea that they were a band at all, they just thought the shirt looked ‘cool,’ can really make your blood boil. “We’re all guilty of wearing an HMV shirt that we bought three for £15, but shops like New Look that sell cheap unlicensed prints at the end of the day are taking from the artists,” admits Will.
That being said, there are so many locations to purchase official good quality-lasting band merchandise that will help you give back to the artists who gave you your music. It may surprise you to learn that the t-shirts HMV sell aren’t actually officially licensed, sad as it is to hear, so while it’s a great place to purchase vinyl and CD’s from, t-shirts not so much. With online shopping on the constant rise, there are two main retailers that house band merchandise of staggering quantities. Websites EMP and Grindstore are packed with plentiful designs and themes of every band under the sun, from shirts to wallets, to bikinis to dresses, you name it they’ll probably have it. On top of this, they offer metal, rock, and alternative clothing brands for all your identity needs.
As a foundational attribute spanning decades of rock and sub-genres across the metal spectrum, the band shirt has always been a unanimous uniform worn as a badge of honour, proving just how the tribal tradition will forever be timeless, and ageless.