Band shirts benefit everyone. The way the music business is set up these days, the cash from the merchandise is the lifeblood of a touring band and a shirt with their name emblazoned across it is pretty effective advertising.
You get a new wardrobe item that tells everyone you meet that you have excellent taste in music and they get the opportunity to maybe discover a new band.
And take care of the shirt and you’ve then got a rare piece of memorabilia to pass on to the next generation of music fans. Win win win win.
15 Best Rock and Roll T-Shirts of All Time
We’ve spent days trawling the merch desks and online stores of great bands in order to find a shortlist of some of the most stylish tees. Now, all you have to do is go listen to the music and pick your size.
Garth’s famous ‘Aer Force One’ shirt from Wayne’s World is sadly unavailable these days, but Aerosmith’s Draw the Line baseball tee* is a more than acceptable alternative. The cartoon of the band members is from the cover of their 1977 record, one of their creative high points, and every wardrobe should have a black and white baseball tee, so this kills two birds.
The band Wilco is akin to The National in that they’ve managed to become hugely popular without losing any credibility. Their store is full of great t-shirt designs but this rooster option stands out as the colors and design will only look better as the shirt ages.
If you’re a Stones fan, it’s always best to avoid the lips logo and go for something a little more vintage and original. This red illustration of Mick Jagger against an off-white shirt has both qualities in spades.
Why wouldn’t you want to wear a shirt with a picture of the coolest woman in rock on it? This vintage Blondie rock t-shirt* shows the rock goddess in all her 1970s glory and is a simple color scheme that will go with casual jeans or look fashion-forward under a blazer.
Country tees are the new rock tees and they don’t come any cooler or more country than ol’ Waylon. This shirt looks like it could be the label on a bottle of whiskey and that’s pretty damn appropriate. Scruff it up and wear it with your most faded black jeans, a belt with a serious buckle and a pair of boots that have seen as many miles as Waylon’s tour bus.
If you want to be a little different and not wear a Velvet Underground t-shirt* with a banana on it, this is an incredibly stylish alternative. Yes, those are Nico’s lips drinking a coke, designed to imitate Andy Warhol’s artwork.
You probably have a lot of questions about this t-shirt*. I can’t really answer any of them, but it’s undeniably great and there’s more where that came from. If you haven’t heard of the Aussie psych oddballs King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, they release about three records a year, so you have a lot of catching up to do.
Duglas Stewart’s eternally melodic Glaswegian outfit was beloved by Kurt Cobain, who was photographed wearing this t-shirt and once claimed they were the only other band he’d want to be in. It’s a simple, striking design, lovingly reproduced by Japanese brand Ashes to Ashes and beautifully modeled here by Chloe Philip, the band’s singer and keyboardist.
Forget those done-to-death Ramones crests and Clash stars, if you want to show some old
school punk credentials, you need to get on board with the original Heartbreaker, Johnny
Thunders. This tee perfectly captures Johnny’s knack for tip-toeing along the line between
down and dirty sleaze and glam cool.
Is Lana rock? Does it matter? All that really matters is how incredibly cool this tee is. Get a size up, roll up the sleeves and add a bit of Norman F***ing Rockwell melodrama to your wardrobe.
Metal t-shirts are never subtle but nobody does over-the-top quite like Maiden. This is maybe the most iconic image of their mascot Eddie that there is, taken from the cover of their 1981 classic album Killers and capturing that moment where their operatic metal still had a dangerously punk edge.
Michael Stipe. That is all.
Back before Sting descended into a mire of tantric sex and duets with Shaggy (not at the same time), there was The Police, one of the greatest trios in music history (sorry, Rush). Just look at him on this reproduction of their 1984 tour tee, resplendent in his mirrored aviators, too cool to even notice the camera, barley fields barely a glimmer in his mind.
For those unfamiliar with Kiwi jangle pop, The Bats are elder states-people of New Zealand’s hallowed Flying Nun label. This beautifully understated tee takes the cover of their glorious 2020 album Foothills and turns it into the coolest thing that has ever looked like it might be broccoli and ketchup.
Add a bit of summer to your outfit all year round with this classic Beach Boys shirt. Perfect for warming up even the chilliest Minnesota winter. (Warning: may not be suitable attire for Minnesota winters)
Big Star were too far ahead of their time to actually be successful but history has been much kinder to the Memphis power poppers. This tee takes the cover of their sublime second album (a photo by revered photographer William Eggleston) and renders it as a lovely minimalist line drawing.
Is there a more fun band in existence than Cheap Trick? One blast of their outsized anthem Surrender and any sane person should be grinning for days. This tee takes their trademarked logo and mucks it about so that it’s hard to look at without feeling drunk. A bit like the band themselves.
Louisville outfit My Morning Jacket toe the line between classic rock, psychedelic jams, and country twang, and all of that feels perfectly summed up in this shirt. This is one of my favorites from my own personal collection. It fits a little small and snuggly so definitely go a size larger.
This last one is as much a plug for the band as the shirt. If you’re someone who likes noisy indie and you haven’t heard of The Wrens, you can thank me later. Their 2003 record (they’ve claimed to be working on the follow-up ever since) The Meadowlands is possibly the greatest indie rock album of all time. This pale-yellow shirt with a Tron-inspired font isn’t too bad either.
Favorites of Antoni Porowski, these Brooklyn-by-way-of-Cincinnati indie heroes have achieved the delicate balance of being credible and cool while also selling a ton of records. You’d probably never catch dapper frontman Matt Berninger in a band tee, but that doesn’t mean you can’t wear one.
One listen to the latest album from North Carolina’s Superchunk is all it takes to realize that What A Time To Be Alive was not meant to be taken positively. Bandmates Mac McCaughan and Laura Balance founded the seminal indie label Merge. Warning, visiting their website is a good way to spend a LOT of money.
Sometimes simplicity is perfection and this shirt from dream-pop duo Beach House is just that. Wear this star-kissed tee while listening to their impossibly beautiful single ‘Zebra’ and experience pure bliss.
Young, irreverent, gritty and hilariously candid London punks Shame are the buzz band of the moment and this tee kind of sums them up perfectly. I’ve no idea why Macaulay Culkin’s head is on Kim Jong Un’s body or why he’s holding an EU flag, but that’s not really the point.
Yellow Bird Project is a wonderful initiative through which bands design tees and the proceeds go to a charity of their choosing.
There are some really great tees and excellent causes to choose from, but this enigmatic grey and red design from Wisconsin’s Bon Iver is definitely our favorite.
How to Wear Rock Tees
Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski demonstrated how a well-designed, on-trend band tee can be an effective shorthand for your individual personality and style, interchanging shirts from his favourite bands The National, The Strokes and Arcade Fire over the course of the show’s first two seasons.
The trick with band tees is finding the ideal middle ground, the point where the shirt looks good, you know and like the band and it’s not an omnipresent design (think The Ramones’ crest, The Stones’ lips or the Nirvana smiley face).
For the most part, it’s best to stick to white or black tees as they go best with blue or black jeans, though there are always exceptions to the rule.
How to Give Your New Shirt a Vintage Feel
Personally, I’m a fan of buying a size larger than I need and washing the shirt three to five times on a really hot wash, stretching it back out after each wash, and then drying it in the sun or for half an hour in a drier on the highest setting.
It’ll shrink a bit, but it gives it a really nice worn, vintage feel.