Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fashion Unconscious

"Music was my first love, and it will be my last". So sang John Miles at some point in the 70's and whilst I don't have much time for the song I can't disagree with the sentiment. I've worked on the fringes of the music industry for over 20 years and what was an obsession has become a profession, I'm fortunate to make a living from something that started as a pleasure. Consequently it means a lot to me; three decades from when I bought my first record I'm still seeking out the pleasures of music.

One of the industry commentators I read regularly, Bob Lefsetz , has many opinions on the future of the music business and has often claimed that you can no longer tell what's really popular from the CD sales charts. Obviously he's right, given the decline in sales and how people really obtain music, but where he strays from the point is in the statement that you can really tell what's popular from the band T-shirts you see on the street. Clearly he hasn't spent much time in England of late.

I started as an interested observer of the rock t-shirt as fashion item boom, amused that so many young people would wear the colours of dated old rockers from the 70's and particularly the 80's metal phase. It was also a good time for me as I found myself having lots of fashionable items in my wardrobe for a change, by accident rather than design.

Unfortunately my amusement soon faded when one day working at BRMB and sporting a Ramones shirt, I bumped into a feckless pop duo who'd achieved some popularity by being on pap-idol. When one half of the witless wonders told me that he had the same T-shirt I was barely able to restrain my glee. After passing some similarly sarcastic comment in his direction I vowed never to wear it again, how could I be seen in the same shirt as some fool from reality TV?

My anger was compounded this time last year when I went on holiday and found myself sitting on a plane next to a man around my age. He was wearing an AC/DC T-shirt. They were the first band I ever saw live (at Birmingham Odeon) so I naturally complimented him on his taste. 'I don't know their stuff' he replied, 'I just liked the shirt'. It was a long flight but no further word passed between us, so deep was my contempt.

I guess it works like this: I am quite happy to see music create a fashion - tribes become easier to identify and music is so important to me that I like to see it playing a part in the lifestyle of others. Band T-shirts as fashion items is something else entirely. Music is a part of life, fashion seems vacuous in comparison - it's barely an accessory.

I know some people possibly feel equally strongly in the opposite camp, but they're wrong. I have always believed that to wear a band T-shirt is to almost advertise the magnificence of that act to others; it's a mark of ownership - a sign of your taste. How could you wear the shirt of a band without knowing much about them? Would my 'friend' on the plane have happily worn a Village People T-Shirt if the font was attractive and the design bold?

I suspect pop-boy knew nothing of the long history of The Ramones or their far more valuable input to music than his blip of fame. For all he knew The Ramones could've been rampant homophobes with far-right leanings who relished the thought of murdering young pop singers. For the record, they weren't, they didn't and they probably wish they could've.


It's not fashion, it's a statement. Don't wear it if you don't know anything about it. Or if you're going to wear it then at least do some research and make sure you're not looking like more of a fool than you clearly are. Finally, buy an official shirt - a lot of those bands could probably use the cash. Whether some of them should make any more records is another matter of course.


Disclaimer: The models/actresses gratuitously used in these photos may be huge fans of the bands whose shirts they are wearing and possibly not representative of this text, but I think you get the point.

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