My Purist High Horse


So today I saw Matt Hunt (who is an awesome tattoo artist I really admire) share this Guardian article about the band T-shirt trend in fashion, and express his thoughts. I had somewhat of a personal response too, which I shared on my own wall (because if I have to get on my high horse, I try to do it in my own space, rather than muddy the comments section of someone else’s page.)

I thought it worth expanding upon.

The article in a nutshell – the band T-shirt trend in fashion is divisive because some outlets like the Jenner sisters and Topshop are treating something that is precious to a group of people (in this case, lovers of classical rock and rap) as a commodity. The vapidity displayed by some execs is truly sickening, although the teens who are adopting the trend as their own largely don’t seem to do it with ill-intent – to them, it just does not have the same meaning as to the people who grew up with the music and who were bullied in school for being alternative. Luckily for my own blood pressure, the Guardian manages to take a fairly nonjudgemental stance.

I might not be so neutral.

Ironically (haha!) I was never very good at showing my fan affiliations at school (or otherwise). I was already being bullied, and I didn’t want to give people more ammo. But I was also afraid I didn’t have enough cred to fit in with the other metalheads at school – I was into Nightwish and Within Temptation (and Evanescence, and the Rasmus, and, yes, Linkin Park) while the others listened to Iron Maiden, Cannibal Corpse, Rammstein, Megadeth, Guns-n-Roses, AC/DC. (I did get into Rammstein and AC/DC, but it was towards the end of my time in HS. I had other things on my mind.) There was an irrational fear that I had about looking like a poser. I wanted to belong, not to have to defend my music choices. (Nowadays, I realize there is more than one metal genre and I can enjoy different bands without having to present a 10-page thesis. The joys of growing up.)

Of course, fashion houses appropriating things is not a new thing. ‘Geek Chic’ was (and still is) a thing that hipsters take proud ownership of. And who can forget the whole ‘Tribal’ trend that was happening last year and the one before last, with MAC showing zero awareness of why Vibe Tribe is offensive, and Marc Jacobs trying to tell people dreadlocks on white models isn’t cultural appropriation. (While POC bloggers and YouTubers sat there and gave him the side-eye. Loudly.)

And before someone slides in the comments to call me a Millennial snowflake who has its feelings hurt by everything, allow me to say this: I am not the person whose culture was being appropriated in the above cases and I am not the one to say if the above brands/content creators have shown sufficient remorse to be forgiven. (I can only call them distasteful and buy my makeup from brands that don’t skeeve me out.)

But as with all cases of appropriation, the band T-shirt craze exemplifies a larger problem, and that is, basically: We like to take things and pretend it is our own invention, without crediting the original creators or paying them their due.

You can apply that across the board.

To put it in another way, if you want to use something – like an image or a logo – that is part of a franchise (say, Disney) you need to have license to sell whatever merch you’re selling. Try uploading a Disney-princess inspired design to sell anywhere on the Internet – that design will be taken down within 48 hours because you are infringing on copyright. Fanart is tricky, because not everyone can be bothered to pursue that case, but shopping retailers are not fans – they are businesses, and they can make a tonne of money, and the owners of the copyright have every reason to make sure that copyright is not being infringed upon.

So here is the question – are highstreet brands like Topshop buying a license to make and distribute those T-shirts with the logos of AC/DC and Nirvana? The Jenners didn’t do that when they used Tupac and Biggie, which is surprising, considering the surcharge Kylie adds to her private-labelled Colourpop lipsticks. (You would think she’d understand the importance of the name-as-a-brand and make sure nobody can accuse her of hypocrisy.) Given how low the price can be on these things, I highly doubt it.

We have a problem with fast fashion, and we have a problem with cultural appropriation. As far as bands and artists are concerned, merch and concert tickets is how money is made, and the reason why official band T-shirts are more expensive is because there is so much to pay for: production, booth space, the salaries of the people who stay up until after 12 to sell said merch, and finally, the band itself. But isn’t it more fair that way?

Maybe MAC and Marc Jacobs didn’t have anybody to pay for license to use dreadlocks and tribal patterns, but they could have educated themselves a bit and made an effort to increase visibility for those marginalised. In the case of bands and artists being appropriated for the sake of a trend, there are actual people and estates that own the copyright and deserve our support.

I would never, ever deny a teen the right to experiment with their look. If they discover the band though fashion, all the better. But there is no excuse for ignorance. Know who makes your clothes and who profits from them. Know who makes the meaning behind the logo. Give your money to licensed resellers, not the sleazy execs who just parrot Google Ad Sense keywords and haven’t spoken to an actual customer in 20 years. You deserve better. We all deserve better.