WRITTEN BY DANIEL PETERS, SINGAPORE COMMUNITY RADIO
For anyone paying attention to modern fashion trends, band t-shirts have become part and parcel of its evolving apparatus — whether new or vintage.
Once a signifier of one’s particular music tastes or fandom, the imagery of t-shirts from bands spanning classic rock, hardcore punk or death metal has been embraced by celebrities and fast fashion. It’s not a unique case anymore to find specialized merch for Metallica and Iron Maiden at your local Cotton On, or seeing headline-dominating celebrities sporting a Morbid Angel longsleeve.
The once-fringe aesthetics of heavy metal have since become commonplace. It has long been a point of contention for fans and musicians — especially ones who’ve lived through decades where their style was once unique to a subculture and demonized by the outside world — but the reactions have mostly quelled.
Even James Hetfield of Metallica has chimed in with a statesman-like opinion: “When I see some kid out on the street with his parents and he’s got a Metallica shirt on, whether he’s heard of us or not, it’s a statement, you know? It is a statement, so I love that.”
Fast forward to 2020 and the band t-shirt fixation still rages on, but specifically in the market of vintage t-shirts. A cursory look at the Instagram pages of vintage sellers like Teejerker and Never Gonna Turn Down Again show them serving an eager following, while pieces on Depop can be snapped up in minutes. Even as Highsnobiety declares the trend as dead, the underground has never once wavered. In fact, as vintage pieces become increasingly scarce with larger demand, prices have gone up.
Teejerker photographed by Josh Bryant
Vintage band t-shirts can fetch up to the hundreds, and such prices can depend on the sellers you encounter and the bands you like. Death Threads is such a store that has operated in Singapore since 2017 — lovingly run by a team of collectors equally enthralled by music, culture and fashion — and they carry a range of band t-shirts amongst their growing collection of vintage shirts, jackets and sweaters.
Beyond being a fashion statement, the lasting appeal of band t-shirts is now permeated by a whiff of nostalgia for eager collectors willing to pay. Death Threads shared some insights with us on the vintage band t-shirt market today, along with some of the pieces that mean the most to them.
Jerry Lorenzo, Founder Fear Of God
Death Threads Instagram
Josh: I'd add that niche bands like the Butthole Surfers and Spacemen 3 too go for a lot as there are more collectors than tees going around in the market.
Justin: Hmm I’d say mostly bands that thrived in the 80s... because their shirts were made much smaller than the 90s. For instance Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, etc.
Jon: First one in my collection will be my 1994 Bjork “Army of me” tee, it was my first “big ticket” vintage tee that I got off from a local collector after a long hunt for this grail. Björk’s artistry and experimental sound always inspired me to think outside of the box when I’m creating.
The second tee will be this 90s Queen tee. Queen is probably my first exposure to rock while growing up and it’s great to be owning something that I can connect with.
Black Shirts World, 90s BJÖRK "ARMY OF ME" T-SHIRT
Justin: First one’s gotta be this 1994 Soundgarden tee from the Superunknown era. I remembered getting into rock/grunge and this has to be one of the best albums ever. Second would be this 2005 Kanye tee. It’s a rare one created by FTK and only given out to Kanye and his crew. I love this shirt for its history. More than that, this was released in between College Dropout and Late Registration which are my top 3 Kanye albums (next to MBDTF).
Josh: First choice has got to be a test print of Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger. One of the bleakest Black Metal album prints featuring all 3 members on the back before one of them left. Another favourite would be a one off bootleg print of the Melvins' debut album Gluey Porch Treatments! Their sound influenced the grunge and sludge metal genres and the Melvins' are still highly underrated.
Vintage 1997 Wu Tang Forever Tee, GRAILED