There was a time when wearing rock band t-shirts was a no-brainer. Anyone could do it – from the unconditional fan who anxiously awaited a concert by the group in question to buy the piece, seen as “official merchandising”, to the lady from Mancelos, who stumbled “over her sweater” at a fortnightly fair in Vila Meã. The first wore it out of love; the second, out of necessity and/or chance. That time no longer exists. But it should, we argued.
“I want to be the kind of asshole who sees a fashion kid in a vintage Metallica tee shirt and insists they be able to sing at least one song from Ride the Lightning." That's how, in April 2018, singer St. Vincent showed her displeasure against “the trend” of wearing t-shirts by bands whose repertoire (allegedly) we don't know. Not everyone took the outburst so seriously. Thank God. Metallica, one of the groups most targeted by the so-called "trend", responded as follows: "Give ‘em a break if they don’t know the words to Escape." That's it, St. Vincent, give them a break. To them, and to you. It's just that not all “fashion kids” were born when Ride The Lightning was released, in 1984. And that doesn't mean they can't actually know the album backwards. I wasn't born when Frank Sinatra released Strangers In The Night, in 1966, and yet I know both sides of vinyl with my eyes closed. And now, St. Vincent, how do you get out of this mess? You don't. Because there is no possible way out. Your argument is the same one used by many pseudo-intellectuals (this will get me in trouble...) who think that “their bands” belong only to them, and that all the others, those who are outside, are a kind of scum, who have no right to belong to the troupe. "Who do you think you are to wear a t-shirt from the Ramones?” or “What's your favorite Iron Maiden song, you think you're so cool?”, here are two bully-style questions to challenge any given passerby – who, by the way, even knows that the Ramones might not even have invented the punk rock, but they were, without a doubt, one of the most important punk rock bands ever, and that, by the way, has heard The Number of The Beast more than once, but prefers Powerslave.
Or not. Or else someone decided to buy an AC/DC t-shirt because he felt like it. Because he liked the aesthetic. Because he found it cool. This is precisely what José Santana, editor-in-chief of GQ and creative art director of Vogue's covers, told us. “A person buys a t-shirt for the design, the aesthetic, not the music. You can even buy an album by a band you like a lot and hate the cover, because the music is what matters there. On the t-shirt it's the other way around. And what's worse, wearing a t-shirt from a group we don't know, or don't particularly like, or wearing a t-shirt from a group we love... but whose design we hate? There is a Led Zeppelin t-shirt that I love, and Led Zeppelin, to me, was never ‘wow’, but I love the aesthetic of that t-shirt. I think a t-shirt is something that is bought by design, it doesn't matter if the person knows the group or not. I think it might even bring curiosity to meet him, actually. Nowadays, with the Internet, in three seconds a person goes looking. If you got attached to a t-shirt, you might think 'let me see what these guys did'. Besides, those radical people who think that a person to wear a t-shirt has to know the group... it's ridiculous. For example, The Rolling Stones logo: is considered one of the best logos ever, even in terms of graphics, because it conveys the idea very well. You can love the logo and not like the band, and you can walk around with a t-shirt because you love the logo... but you don't love the band. It's a t-shirt! There are people who wear Marilyn Monroe and James Dean t-shirts and maybe they've never seen any of their movies.” So, as a designer, it doesn't bother you? Or rather, doesn't it shock you? “It shocks me that people are shocked by this! It's putting an intellectuality in something that doesn't have to have it. It's like wanting to be an elite, like 'these t-shirts can only be worn by connoisseurs...' It's ridiculous.” For years, the ill-fated t-shirts of rock bands were sold, unnoticed, at fairs and second-hand markets. Only when fast fashion brands took hold of them, in recent years, did the stir start. Because it became “forbidden to wear” something that you didn't know everything about. “Do you know who Johnny Ramone is? No? So what are you wearing that for?" Simple: “Because it's for sale in dozens of places. And because, can you imagine, my eyes met that t-shirt and I've never been the same person since then (insert shrug emoji if there is one). “This was a question that could be asked, perhaps, at an extreme, if it were a t-shirt that has a political message. And then yes, maybe it's stupid to use something that has a message we don't agree with. Now in a band t-shirt it's pathetic. For now, it is always a tribute to the band, because you liked its aesthetics”, stresses José Santana.
That's what I thought a few years ago when I made the mistake of buying a t-shirt from a group whose name won't be mentioned, because, according to a co-worker, I wasn't “qualified” to wear it. Maybe I wasn't. The walls of my teenager's room weren't lined with posters of the said group, their songs weren't on loop on my walkman, but their aesthetic, damn, their aesthetic was amazing – in my defense, I knew half a dozen songs by that group; I wasn't the euphoric fan who would be in the front row if there was a concert, but I would know her vocalist's voice if I heard it. And it was exactly because I appreciated this aesthetic, this mood, that I bought the t-shirt. Curse. The comment that was made to me, somewhere between “I feel sorry for you” and “Even if you wear that t-shirt a thousand years you'll never be as cool as I am” made me, idiot, put the t-shirt in a drawer, ashamed with my lack of “coolness”, as if I had committed perjury. Until I realized that, on the verge of turning 40 (even if I was 20!) I don't have to ask anyone's permission to wear whatever I want. This includes t-shirts from bands that aren't on my playlist and, if applicable, t-shirts from artists who will never be – because if one day Emanuel launches a t-shirt with a damn good design, I won't have any shame to spend money on her. And in wearing it. Voilà! It's just t-shirts, people! Don't make this a debate around reindeer or elephant rights! If we really want to demonstrate our political convictions, we do it in other ways, namely through the using right to vote. I doubt that, this morning, my graphic designer thought if I should go out wearing a purple t-shirt that reads “Human Creature”. Did she want to make a declaration of intent? Did she mean she was a human being? Did she just like the t-shirt, and that's it? It is quite possible that is the last one, yes. In fact, it's just possible that it does. Sorry, St. Vincent.
There are those who don't think so, of course. And these voices must also be heard. Mike, let's call him that, he's 17 years old and is a fervent supporter of the “burn people who wear t-shirts from bands they don't know anything about” cause. Mike, however, has arguments that deserve our attention, if only because Mike is 17 years old, and should be the first to advocate freedom in full. And yet… “It's disrespectful to be walking around with a brand and not knowing what it is. Because, in the first place, when I wear [band t-shirts] it means 'I listen, I like it, I represent it, I support what this project does'. If I meet someone on the street and they are wearing a band t-shirt I will assume they know what it is. And it's a bit bad [when you don't know] and I've already mentioned it, and people 'oh, I don't know'. And it's kind of sad, because it's disappointing, because I wanted to talk about it with the person, but the person has no idea. And then it's a bit of the disrespect thing. You don't even need to like it. It's not even one thing to like the band, unless you know what it is, you're wearing a piece of clothing, if you don't like the music but you like, I don't know, the design, unless you know what it is, because then you're not making a bear figure when someone asks you what that is.” But can we wear the t-shirt at some point, as long as we inform ourselves about the group in advance? "You can, but you are not that band's audience." We are not? Hmm... “I don't wear t-shirts from bands I don't know at least five songs from. At least. But this is a personal thing. And it's a joke you make. Now there are a lot of girls and kids out there in band t-shirts, but they have no idea what that is. They have no idea. And it's so boring. It's just annoying.” Okay, Mike. Just this time because you know I adore you: we agree to disagree. Aunt Ana will continue her t-shirts "from bands she doesn't know anything about." With pride.
Translated from the original, as part of Vogue Portugal's Music Issue, published in june 2021.