When I was a child, my parents and grandparents never wore T-shirts; I think there was something about the lack of a collar being too informal, never mind showing your arms. But T-shirts were something that children and teenage hippies could wear. On holiday in the 1970s, there’d be shops where you could get your name printed on a T-shirt along with your favourite cartoon characters.
In America, the T-shirt was already established as an outer garment in the 1950s, when Marlon Brando transformed a dull peasant under-vest into a manly fashion icon in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Before punk, the huge bands like the Rolling Stones, Mud and Slade had their own T-shirts, but these seemed to be a cheap way of promoting the acts, not a major income source. You could buy large quantities of plain white T-shirts really cheaply, which is why the DIY ethos of punk quickly adopted this style.
Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren were able to print and sell deliberately outrageous and offensive prints on T-shirts to the burgeoning punk scene in their London shops Sex and Seditionaries. Images included the inverted crucifix, swastika, the Queen’s face defaced, trouserless cowboys and drawings of sex scenes that I don’t want to put on here and would never have considered wearing; punkprude that I obviously am! Needless to say, these T-shirts are now worth a lot of money – imagine, £600 or more for an old, worn T-shirt.
Years and years later, the most iconic punk T-shirt has become the Ramones logo. This T-shirt is now owned by millions of people too young to have ever seen the band, and possibly not even aware that it is a band. Their reason for buying it may just be that it’s a cool logo that is a parody of The United States Presidential Seal.
This clever design, by Arturo Vega, incorporates band members’ ideas and interests in place of the well-known presidential original. The Ramones T-shirt sells for £7 in H & M, Sports Direct etc and still earns merchandise royalties for the remaining families.
“As the band has slowly receded into history, sales of their shirts have picked up. It was reported that the day after Joey died in 2001, one American clothing chain put in an order for 10,000 units.” The Independent
All looked great for the punk T-shirt until…..