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Archive for Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Vintage rock wear loses stock as reproduction tees surface

June 8, 2005

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Consider the rock T-shirt.

It's not just a piece of clothing; it's a cultural totem, a tangible memento of personal taste. At least, it was.

Once the province of concert merchandise booths, wearing a rock shirt meant that you or someone you know went to the show and laid out an extra $10 or $20 for the bragging rights, which you wore right there across your chest for all the world to see.

Concert attendance is no longer mandatory. Sometimes, in fact, it's impossible. When goofball actor Ashton Kutcher shows up on "The Tonight Show" wearing a black "Rolling Stones '72" shirt - a tour that took place six years before he was born - it's safe to assume Kutcher didn't buy the shirt in the parking lot of the Hollywood Bowl after the gig.

He probably bought it at Target or JC Penney. Both stores, along with mall punk shops such as Hot Topic, sell reproductions of vintage rock tees in the name of fashion. Want an AC/DC shirt from the "Back in Black" era? Maybe a floating-pig tee from mid-'70s Pink Floyd? There are Def Leppard and Cure shirts available, if the '80s are more your thing. You can buy the real ones, too, if you have the money - a genuine Santana shirt from a 1973 show will set you back $102 online.

"Anything to do with fashion basically trivializes most things, particularly anything to do with rock music," Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson told the BBC. "I view heavy metal T-shirts surfacing in Justin Timberlake videos as not something to write home about."

Rock resurgence

Indeed, the tees are part of the resurgence of rock fashion, with its emphasis on studded belts, Converse sneakers and shaggy hair worn by people who are more interested in fashion than making a defiant, if passive, statement through their appearances.

"To me, metal's cool because it used to be the choice of the person who walked alone, the lion who strides confidently through the jungle knowing full well that 'this AC/DC T-shirt says a lot about me,"' Justin Hawkins, singer for The Darkness, told the BBC.

A T-shirt still says a lot about you, but what it says has changed. In a broader cultural sense, the ubiquity of the rock tee is part of a trend toward branding ourselves with corporate logos. You can buy shirts emblazoned with the names of the stores selling them, or show how clever you are with a mass-produced tee bearing slogans about the volume of tequila you can drink or why it's cool to throw rocks at boys (hint: They're smelly).

Return to basics

If you're ready to buck the trend, if all you want is a simple blank T-shirt, your options lately have been limited. If you want one that actually fits right, too, well, that's just crazy talk.

So crazy it could make a lot of money, that is.

American Apparel, a Los Angeles clothing company, has positioned itself as an anti-fashion brand for discerning consumers by producing T-shirts and other clothing with no logos. It's an idea that has built the company's headquarters into what it says is the largest garment factory in the country, with more than 3,000 employees working in a converted railroad warehouse on the edge of downtown Los Angeles. Founder and owner Dov Charney says his company sold 40 million T-shirts last year, a number he hopes to boost to as high as 60 million this year.

"When you're looking for good quality shirts that are in the spirit of America, I want you to think of American Apparel," he says.

Founded in 1997, the company started as a wholesale vendor of T-shirts. It has grown during the past few years to include retail stores in major cities, an online store and an expanding line of clothes, including hooded sweatshirts and underwear. With provocative advertisements, the company is targeting young people it calls "early adapters" - the ones who shape trends instead of chasing them. The no-logo ethos appeals to those people who aren't interested in advertising their personal preferences on their garments, says Alexandra Spunt, who oversees ad copy and marketing for the company.

"It's this kind of return-to-basics thing, the no branding," she says, though she notes, "Our No. 1 selling point is still the actual product. You can't actually know what percentage of people are buying clothes because they're sweatshop-free or because they like the ads."

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