Rules to Jam By
Going to concerts presents a unique sartorial challenge, but maybe not the one you think. It’s not how to approach concerts in winter, when it’s freezing outside but inevitably sweaty inside. You’re an adult, so that one is too easy: tie the jacket around your waist or bring a tote bag to carry it in (perhaps a yellow one).
No, we’re dealing with one of the all-time iconic garments: the band tee.
The band tee truly runs the gamut. Megastores like Target and hipster chains like Urban Outfitters alike sell carefully distressed “vintage”-looking ones for folks looking for rocker style on the cheap. Meanwhile, stars and trendsetters can buy actual vintage pieces that cost obscene amounts of money and look like they had a rough encounter with a weed whacker. In terms of design, they range from simple screenprints on bulk-sold Gildan crewnecks to whatever the hell was going on with Grateful Dead shirts back in the day (yes, the bootlegs count).
And band tees benefit everyone. They’re not unconscionably expensive to make, and merch money often goes directly to the band, which is an excellent development. And you, the fan, get a memento to show off your fandom while looking pretty hip (depending on the shirt).
But what are the rules for wearing band tees to concerts? For me, there are two guidelines you need to follow when it comes to which band merchandise you can wear to a concert. In some ways, they are the inverse of the rules on what to wear to a sporting event, starting with the first rule, which is that you should never, ever, EVER wear a band’s tee to its own show.
(As an aside, I’ll note up front that there is an exception to this rule. Jammy, tour-focused bands with cult-like followings -- the Grateful Dead, Phish, etc. -- are a rare breed where wearing a shirt from a specific show can be a delightful conversation starter. Those shows are more like druggy family reunions than concerts, anyway.)
If you’re going to buy a shirt or a pin or something else at the show, go for it! Remember, supporting your favorite artists financially is a good and noble thing to do. Feel free to drape that bad boy over your shoulder while you pogo around in the crowd (or drop it in your tote bag for later). But putting on the shirt you just bought is a bridge too far, and going to the show with a group of people who are all wearing matching Car Seat Headrest shirts is absolutely unconscionable.
We get it: you’re a big fan. we already knew that from your expressive enthusiasm. You’re in the front row, you’re shout-singing all of the lyrics, and you’re careful to direct your rabid cries of “I LOVE YOU” not to the lead singer, but to the member of the band that you think only you recognize as the true coolest member. That’s not harmful. Live your life! But putting on the shirt takes you into full-blown swoon territory. At that point, you’re basically one step away from jumping on stage and trying to get the bass player to marry you, which is just going to make everyone uncomfortable. After all, loving a band is great, but a life-defining obsession is pretty unflattering. Remember, kids: caring about stuff isn’t cool.
Speaking of coolness, isn’t that why we go to concerts (especially ones that are not pop shows in massive arenas) in the first place? Of course it is! And what’s cooler than being cool? No, it’s not “ice cold.” It’s being a smug asshole with an encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture. At least that’s what Tarantino movies taught me. Anyway, the second rule is that if you’re going to wear a band tee to a concert, you should seek to maximize the super-impressive indie music knowledge that you’re showing off with your choice of shirt. There are two main ways to pull this off, both of which involve wearing shirts for bands related to the band you’re seeing.
Remember when you saw this band a couple years ago and they had an awesome opener? Maybe you bought a tee from the opener at the merch table after the show. This is an excellent shirt to wear! Any quick Instagram search suggests that bands that tour together get very close and friendly, so this may even bring up a fond memory for the band you’re seeing. This happened to me last summer, when I got acknowledged by the guitarist...who was wearing the same band’s shirt on stage.
If you couldn’t earn the admiration of the band with your shirt choice, don’t worry. There’s still a way for you to establish your dominance among fans: by wearing a shirt from a band member’s former group or side project. What better way is there to catapult yourself into the upper echelon of fandom? Besides, this is a perfect avenue for cross-genre action. Blur and Gorillaz have no connection besides the fact that Damon Albarn fronts both groups. But the guy who wore a Blur shirt to a Gorillaz show I attended was the true star of the night, in no small part because his shirt was sufficiently loved to indicate that he had actually purchased it at a Blur concert way back when.
* * *
That said, there’s no reason why you should listen to me. At the end of the day, you should just wear whatever the hell you want to a show. Just don’t make anyone uncomfortable with your clothing, because we’re all just trying to have a fun, safe time. And of course, buy shirts and other merchandise at shows when you can.
It’s great to get attire to wear to future shows, sure, but it’s also the case that bands depend on tours and merch money to live on so they can keep making the music you love, because God knows there ain’t no rent checks coming from those damn streams.