Resources for the Promotional Products Industry
History of Merch: Band T-Shirts
Welcome to a new series where we will be discussing the history of merch! We will bring to your attention some of the most iconic and memorable merch campaigns in history, and hopefully, inspire you to develop your own signature merchandise!
Rock and roll band t-shirts had their origins in the late 1950 via an Elvis fan club . He was among the pioneers who not only defined the genre of rock and roll music, but also concert merchandise.
In the latest Elvis Presley biopic film , we get a glimpse of how he used merch products to promote and sell to their fans. This film does a great job of showing how band merch was a big part of the rock and roll movement.
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Back then, popular band t-shirts weren't an everyday item but rather something more special, a sign of belonging to a fan club. And only in the late 1960 rock concert promoter, Bill Graham saw this opportunity of using t-shirts as "walking billboards". And it quickly evolved into an unstoppable trend. Fast forward a few decades and we are now wearing concert shirts on a daily basis.
Band T-Shirt Timeline
Here’s a timeline for the evolution of band shirts as recorded by authors Amber Easby and Henry Oliver in their book The Art of the Band T-shirt:
(1956) Elvis Presley’s company produces band shirts to advertise four of his singles
(1964) The Beatles celebrate their US tour by making music T-shirts for fans
(1967) The Monkees create concert T-shirts for their tours
(1968) Bill Graham’s Winterland Productions becomes the first manufacturing company of band T-shirts
(1970) The Allman Brothers bring out a T-shirt for family, band members and crew
(1971) The Grateful Dead launches their tye-dye shirt (birth of a 40-year tradition)
(1973) Concert promoter produce a shirt for a music fest, advertising three bands together: The Allman Brother, Grateful Dead, and The Band
(1973) Promoters make a tee for a Yes tour and make a $250,000 profit
(1974–76) Vivienne Westwood defines the punk movement with memorable tees like the Destroy T-shirt
(1983) Katherine Hamnett launches her slogan T-shirts that are picked up by musicians and fits the zeitgeist of 80s
(1985) Hip hop design legend, Cey Adams, creates the now universal Run-DMC tees
(1991) A concert poster uses the Nirvana logo with a smiley face and lives on to become ubiquitous.
Most popular band t-shirts
Among the pioneers the widely popular band AC/DC became one of the first bands to ever make more from merch sales than ticket sales, according to Grailed Magazine .
As one of the most iconic rock bands in history, the Rolling Stones have cultivated a huge global following throughout their career, often selling more merchandise than concert tickets. The Rolling Stones’ famous tongue and lip design was created in 1971 by London artist John Pasche and the logo first appeared on the Stones’ album, Sticky Fingers . This iconic rock t-shirt is one of the most recognizable rock and roll garments of all time.
For Sale: Rolling Stones - Whitstand (Lips)