The Best Band T-Shirts | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

The Best Band T-Shirts

From classics to modern designs, Beth Roskilly talks us through the best band merchandise on the market today

A must-have staple in any music lover’s wardrobe, the band t-shirt is not only an expression of style but taste as well. Therefore, I’m going to give you my personal highlights on the best designs out there right now.

Let’s start with the classics. Nirvana, The Ramones, The Rolling Stones, The Smiths, Pink Floyd, Bowie, Joy Division, Run D.M.C. All have released iconic shirts the likes of which you can pick up in your local H&M, Primark or Urban Outfitters (dependent upon availability). It’s probable you’ve seen these shirts a thousand times already, but hey, they look good every time. There have been issues within the music community, criticising popular high-street clothing stores for selling band shirts as it means more people buy the shirt solely for the design, perhaps without much knowledge of the music behind it. I would like to take this moment to say that this criticism devalues the importance of aesthetic appearance, and the skill and originality of the designs which have made them so popular. The band shirts I have collated here can all stand alone on their designs, as they should be able to.

However, if you’re a big lover of one of these bands and are fed up of being thrown in with the mainstream I suggest going vintage. Prices may be steeper, but you’re paying for a piece of history. Check out this vintage Rolling Stones shirt from 1982. Or how about this Nirvana from 1992? You can venture outside the usual scope and find lesser known designs like this sunny Ramones shirt. The benefits from going vintage include that it’s easier to find a looser cut, more in keeping with a grungy style, and with slight wear and tear it looks like you’ve been partying since the 80s even if you were born in 96.

Etsy is a great place for finding a range of vintage clothing, such as this beautiful Snoop Dogg shirt, featuring Snoops of various emotions and quotes from an interview with Playboy in 1995. If you’re looking for something a little wavier there’s this tie-dyed Grateful Dead shirt, which is just the right mixture of psychedelia and rock. This faded John Lennon shirt is perfect for a prettier, pinker style and this Skinny Puppy Meek Baby shirt is easily both the coolest and creepiest design so far.

Rock bands have always been the dominant player when it comes to band shirts. See this Judas Priest Screaming for Vengeance shirt featuring a stylised robotic eagle, so cool the design made in the 80s is still inspiring designs at Gap this decade. It’s hard to deny the iconic nature of Iron Maiden shirts such as this Killers shirt, with their detailed, haunting artworks or the kickass beauty of the Guns and Roses logo. The style of these shirts go hand in hand with their style of music: bold, tough and dark. Mixing this up a little, Babymetal’s Fox Masks tee is a beautiful graphical collage, featuring all the skulls and horns of metal alongside their cute signature Kitsune (fox) hand gesture and masks. This Bottoms Up shirt by Avenged Sevenfold follows a similar composition but depicts the band as a group of skeletons drinking, with the decorative framing making this design also great for a tattoo. Whilst a lot plainer, this simple but somewhat eerie design by The Sisters of Mercy is also another of my rock favourites.

Queens of the Stone Age have many shirts designed in an Art Nouveau style such as this ‘The Lost Art’ shirt, featuring artwork of a feminine angel reaching out, surrounded by stars and sweeping fabric. The Stone Roses are also strongly influenced by art, producing a series of shirts paired with Jackson Pollock esque drip paintings - see this ‘I Want to Be Adored’ shirt. Royal Blood have a great collection of shirts featuring surreal illustrations from their single and album artworks such as this ‘Little Monster’ tee.

Catfish and the Bottlemen follow a similar trend with their design for The Ride of an alligator biting on his own tail. This image is a nod to the Alligator Lounge where most of the album was written, but also makes an interesting design open to metaphorical interpretation. For something a bit more comic, Beck has this cute, amateur style illustration featuring a naked man riding on suspicious looking and equally naked horse, titled Sell Your Car.

Sonic Youth’s T-Shirt featuring the artwork for their album Goo also showcases comic influence of a different kind. The design is produced by artist Raymond Pettibon, who is also the designer of the famous Black Flag logo and is based upon a paparazzi photo of Maureen Hindley and David Smith, two witnesses in the Moor Murders case. The context combined with the text written makes this shirt a little more morbid than you would first assume, glancing at this stylish pop-art illustration.

Disclosure also has some striking shirts to offer. This Caracal T-Shirt is a strong, minimalist and linear take on the album artwork, matching the designs used for their The Face merchandise. Both tops really are eye-capturing, but due to the placement of the design I think ladies in these shirts might have to rethink the use of the phrase ‘my eyes are up here’.

DJ Shadow’s The Mountain Will Fall shirt also makes use of their album design. Although I wish this came in a gradient blue shirt to match the background of the album (why do shirt designs reject colour so much?), the silhouetted king falling under the mountain is a strong message, and the coloured speckles add a ravey, galaxy vibe. This shirt reminds me of Queens of the Stone Age’s Near Death T-Shirt, but with a stronger, edgier and more political design.

Odd Future have a wide range of stylish apparel available, including socks and shorts alongside a variety of colourful, graphic and unusual shirt designs, such as this Jasper Fireworks Cardinal Red Tee or their Punctured OF Logo shirt. I am a big fan of designs such as these, which have clear ties to the band or artist without slapping their names and faces everywhere, and whilst still looking cool and on trend to those who don’t know that it is music-based merchandise.

From doughnut lettering to straight up stealing Simpsons’ characters, this Neck Deep tee features a very waved Milhouse surrounded by the lyric ‘It’s all fun and games until someone gets fucked up’ from their single ‘Kali Ma’. I love the inky tie-dye pattern and shirts with details on the back, as we deserve to look good from every angle, plus they provide entertainment for others in a queuing scenario.

Of Monsters and Men’s 2015 World Tour shirt is less instantly recognisable to the band, but makes a good shirt regardless. The artwork is by graphic designer Leif Podhajsky, who has produced many brilliant album artworks, including work for the bands Tame Impala and Foals. This black and white print has abstract, geographical and natural qualities which work well with their choice of a textured ‘Oatmeal’-coloured shirt over plain white and stands out from typical illustrational designs.

Biffy Clyro also chooses an unusual style, with this photomontage shirt. They have a great range of apparel available, however this shirt stands out to me due to its unique composition and choice of vintage images. The messy style of writing and use of collage create a homemade feel which reflects their alt-rock genre of music. I admire the creation of an artistic shirt design, independent of album or single designs such as this, as it shows attention to the importance of good merchandise that is actually wearable.

However, if you are going to go full force and slap your band’s image, name and track title on a shirt, who does it more beautifully than The 1975? The band have cleverly branded themselves based on their image, and that in particular of Matt Healy, making them icons of indie style. Their ‘Love Me’ T-Shirt stands out with pastel pink colourization contrasted with pops of blue, yellow and orange within the band’s image. The text delicately borders the photo, reducing the in-your-face branding, but making it clear who the shirt represents.

Finally, it’s not just bands and artists that produce great-looking shirts - record companies do too! My favourites include this Snake Tee by Hospital records, a patterned take on their old logo, that does intentionally or not, make me reminisce about 8-bit snake games, this blocky print from Warp Records  and this adorable Spearhead Records character whose beaming smile could warm even the coldest of hearts.

With thanks to Tim H.


23rd March 2017 at 12:31 pm

Images from

Rolling Stone