Published Aug 01, 2001It started innocently enough, as these types of things most often do, with a Nirvana T-shirt. You know the one, it has that big, blissful, stoned-looking yellow smiley face on the front. I caught my first glimpse of Nirvana via a shirt worn by Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, which led to a prompt purchase of Bleach, and when some guy was spotted wearing that same shirt at the Toronto Lollapalooza in '91, well, I just had to know where he found this mythical shirt. He said "England." I said "fuck!"
Eventually Nirvana shirts immigrated to these shores, and a brand new, smiley-faced Nirvana T-shirt was purchased shortly before the Nevermind popularity explosion. My mother had stopped dressing me a few years before, but until that point it was with limited success that I followed up on her endeavours. But with the purchase of this shirt I felt that I had raised the bar of my own fashion sense, and began to establish my own personal identity. While wearing this T-shirt, people who were much cooler than I would stop me and ask me about the band, where I acquired this shirt and my own musical tastes.
To truly understand the significance of this shirt, and that of future band shirts, is to comprehend the inherent correlation between what a person wears and what they listen to. The general rule of thumb is that the more obscure a band shirt, the more involved, in the know and, subsequently, cool the wearer is this rule can also generally be applied to a person's music collection. The popularity explosion of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" rendered all the inherent coolness of my smiley-faced Nirvana shirt meaningless. I was no longer a cool, hip, underground music guru, I was just another j-brone in a Nirvana shirt. While not diminishing my love for the band, the shirt was relegated to house-only duty.
While devastated by the Nirvana experience, the compulsion to wear band's shirts in an attempt to define, enhance and convey my own identity and musical tastes has continued unabated for years. Now, at a lean, mean 26 years of age, I often wonder if it has gone too far. While my musical tastes have changed drastically since my teen years, focused now on the metallic hardcore sphere of underground music, my T-shirt collection has grown at an alarming rate, and I can now go months without having to do laundry. My favourite shirt right now is a Turmoil shirt purchased three years ago; Turmoil doesn't exist anymore, but have quite the legacy in hardcore (even more so in death), which precludes me from wearing it to any hardcore shows, as does most of my wardrobe. Isis, Converge, Drowningman, Eyehategod all names that most in the music world doesn't know or knows fleetingly, but all quite common in the underground world, and if one's inherent coolness is measured by the obscurity of their T-shirt, then to be the coolest person in the room you can't be seen wearing a T-shirt someone else may be wearing, let alone half the club.
It has become that absurd. Not only do I refuse to buy band shirts by moderately known acts that I like because others may own the shirt, but that even the unknown ones are cast into doubt how many people really own Deadguy long sleeves? Ask yourself, why would a 26-year-old man wear a Cream Abdul Babar shirt? Is it because he likes the band? Partially yes, they're amazing. Is it because of their brilliant name or cool skull design on the shirt? Um, maybe. Or is it because less than five people in Toronto own that shirt?
I have become a prisoner of my own wardrobe, all in a desperate effort to salve my insecurities through some misplaced belief that band shirts equate coolness. The bands don't make it any easier though almost every band in aggressive music will have a plethora of shirts, hoodies and jackets with constantly changing designs (I'm currently working on a Dillinger Escape Plan ensemble, complete with shirt, jacket and hat). Hell, it's not uncommon to plop down a couple hundred bucks when a band I really love comes to town. When is enough enough? I have started questioning whether or not my T-shirt collection says anything about me other than that I haven't really changed my style of dress in over ten years. Truth be told, I have thought fleetingly about buying five plain black T-shirts and closeting everything else. Maybe it would be for the best to start a new fashion life but then I'll spot someone wearing a Pantera, Marilyn Manson or Korn shirt. I'll glance at them, while I myself represent in my Fantomas long sleeve. And I realise that you really are what you wear.