. Old School Tees Blog: A Brief History of the Rising Popularity of Band Tees

A Brief History of the Rising Popularity of Band Tees

A Brief History of the Rising Popularity of Band Tees

Why did band tees get so popular, and why are they still popular to this day? See how they started, how they stuck around, and how they gained their value.

Band shirts are a staple in a wardrobe for any music fan. Buying a t-shirt at a concert brings back memories you'll remember each time you wear the shirt. Wearing a shirt from your favorite band helps to express your musical preferences and your devotion to the band.
Chances are if you're a music fan most of the shirts in your wardrobe are band merchandise.
You probably have vintage shirts, tees inherited from family, limited edition tees, and tees featuring album artwork from your favorite albums. But have you ever thought about the history of band shirts?
Read on and find out the amazing history of band tees and its rise to popularity.

The History of the T-Shirt

First, we need to discuss the history of the t-shirt. T-shirts weren't worn by themselves until the 1950's. Before that, the simple white t-shirt was worn undergarments.
T-shirts gained popularity when movie stars such as James Dean sported them. The simple t-shirt was seen as a fashion item, and men started wearing them alone rather than as undergarments.
As more t-shirts were worn, companies started to use t-shirt marketing as a form of advertisements.

Elvis and The Beatles

Not surprisingly, the first band tees printed were from the two biggest legends in rock n' roll: Elvis Presley and The Beatles.
In the late 1950's, a member of one of Elvis' fan clubs printed the first ever rock t-shirt for Elvis. When The Beatles started becoming a powerhouse band around 1964, their t-shirts started to print.
However, printing band t-shirts didn't become a cultural staple until the late 1960's.

70's Bands Make a Statement

During the 1970's, rock bands started to emerge. Bands such as Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Kiss began printing band tees. However, these were only printed in small quantities.
During this time, bands started touring and they needed an easy way for venues to identify crew. T-shirts were made specifically for this personnel.
Shirts made for fans were actually bootlegged shirts, made very cheaply and sold without the band's permission.
This trend continued in the 80's until more professional printing services became prevalent and licensing and copyright laws became more prevalent.

Winterland Productions

In 1968, rock producer Bill Graham formed Winterland Productions. This print shop was said to be 'the first concert t-shirt manufacturing company.'
Winterland Productions was also said to be the 'biggest, baddest, and coolest print shop' in the San Francisco Bay Area.
But Winterland Productions was actually the first professional printing shop that purchased rights to print band tees and the bands sold them.
Winterland Productions was named after the San Francisco concert venue, Winterland Ballroom, which was also owned by Graham.
Graham printed shirts from leading bands of the hippie movement, such as Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Big Brother and the Holding Company.

Common Band T-Shirt Designs, Styles, and Quality

Band tees are printed on 100% cotton. Most are black or white, even though it's becoming more common to print band shirts in additional colors.
At first, t-shirt styles were only offered in men's sizes and the sleeves were short-sleeve. As the trend grew more popular, more shirts started to be printed in women's, youth, and XXL+ sizes.
Band shirts are also offered in 3/4 sleeves, long sleeves, and hoodies.
Designs usually encompass a band's individual image. This could be an image of the whole band, which was common with The Ramones and Kiss.
Other band shirts feature one band member, such as AC/DC's classic image of guitarist Angus Young.
Other shirts simply feature the logo. This is common for bands such as Motorhead and Judas Priest.
Bands have also had a signature image or mascot. This includes the tongue-sticking-out image from The Rolling Stones, the 'ZOSO' image from Led Zeppelin, and the zombie 'Eddie' seen on all of Iron Maiden's merchandise.
Album artwork has also been printed on shirts to promote the album and sell merchandise.

Shirts by Genre

The band t-shirt revolution only grew because more bands started to emerge. With more bands came more genres and styles, and more band tees. Unique artwork and logos appeared, and more ways formed to wear band merchandise.

The Psychedelic/Hippie Movement

It was mentioned that Winterland Productions were amongst the first to print band tees, and focused on the hippie movement.
These designs featured intricate logos and designs featuring some of the leading bands during this era.
This was also the era when tie-dyeing your shirts were becoming popular. Because of this, the classic tie-dye shirt is a reflection of the hippie movement.
Major hippie events such as Woodstock Festival came out during this time. These band shirts were available at Woodstock Festival and other music events of the era.


Music became faster and angrier with punk. Bands such as The Ramones, The Clash, The Misfits, and Sex Pistols catapulted with a music movement that focused on anarchy and self-empowerment.
Everything about punk was DIY during this time. It was cheaper and more accessible to print patches, so bands opted to print their logos on patches instead of shirts. These patches were either sewn or pinned on jackets and shirts.


When heavy metal started to become a phenomenon, their band tees featured some of the craziest designs. This is due to heavy metal's darker imagery, but also the increase in technology with printing.
It became more common to print intricate designs such as album artwork and commissioning artists to draw unique designs. Even earlier heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath featured this kind of merchandise.
When British heavy metal bands such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest became well-known, they printed their colorful and intricate art on their shirts.
This trend continued with the thrash movement; when Metallica and Megadeth reached popularity, their cover and song art was featured on merchandise.

Glam Metal

Glam metal and glam rock was a revolution for heavier music genres. These bands were broadcasted in the public eye, being played on radio and TV stations around the world.
Because of the fame and money, these bands were earning, they needed more marketing materials. This included band tees and specific designs that were trendy during this era.
Since these bands were constantly touring, tour shirts became popular during this time. These are shirts made specifically for a tour and feature the tour dates on the back of the shirt.
Bands such as Poison, Ratt, Warrant, and Motley Crue did well selling their merchandise.

Frankie Says Relax
In 1984, the song 'Relax' by Frankie Goes to Hollywood was banned by BBC Radio. The reason was sexually explicit lyrics.
So what does the band do? They design shirts in protest.
These iconic shirts only have 'Frankie Says Relax' printed in big, capital letters.
However, this shirt movement moved the song 'Relax' to the number 1 spot on the charts. The single received so much success, even though it was banned from one of the biggest radio stations.
What does this example prove? Two things: 1. Rock bands still persevere even with the interference of censorship and 2. Wearing expressive t-shirts truly makes a powerful statement.

Band T-Shirts Today

The vintage band t-shirts have exploded in popularity. You can see celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber sporting old-school band shirts, and see vintage-inspired designs in major retailers around the world.
But the band shirts still remain a staple amongst music fans. And there are a variety of reasons.
The major one if an industry reason -- the music industry is losing money. It first started with illegally downloading music, but now streaming services have made it impossible for labels to receive album sales.
The vinyl and cassette trends have emerged and help bands and their labels, but they can't solely rely on those sales.
Because of this, merchandise is more prevalent. Bands are printing more merchandise and selling it on tour. Online retailers have purchased rights to designs, print the merchandise, and sell it on their website.
Other merchandise has been created to help out music artists even further. Some of the pieces of merchandise include headphones and even barbeque sauce.
Selling band shirts isn't just for the industry professionals anymore. Old music fans are digging up their vintage band shirts and auctioning them off. Shirts from bands like The Clash have spiked up in price, up to $225.

Do You Appreciate Your Band Tees Even More?

Whether you get your band merchandise through a third-party retailer or from the band themselves, you truly appreciate your band shirts. Even when the design is faded from wear, your favorite band's shirt is still your first choice.
Band shirts have always been a major part of music history, and always will. So many people have a devotion to music, and they love expressing their musical views. The best way to do this is by wearing your favorite band shirts.
If you're looking for great band shirts, we have a wide selection in many different genres.


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