Some think that the 1980s were a simpler time for wearing a band t-shirt to show off your musical tastes. There just weren’t so many different categories and subcategories for popular music then as there are now, or at least many people weren’t aware of at the time. Hip Hop, Trance, House Music, Techno, Grunge, Alternative Rock and World Music (in the US) were all just beginning to build momentum in the 80s. With relatively no internet around to share news of bands, groups and artists, popular music was mostly only heard on radio, MTV(!) or at clubs or concerts.
Not heard of yet in US popular culture at the time were musical categories like Drum and Bass, Dub Step, Emo, Chillwave and many more categories and subcategories that people are aware of today. So it was a simpler time for band t-shirt choices and the following shirts are some excellent examples of the big t-shirt players of the times that you could have seen on the streets in the 80s.
Red Hot Chili Peppers Asterisk T Shirt | Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Red hot Chili Peppers were formed in Los Angeles in 1983 and really came into their own as a powerhouse band in the mid to late 80s. This band tee was super popular in the mid 80s as a sign of rebellious, fun-loving, chaotic musical taste (as well as being an RHCP fan of course) and self-expression. It also represented newer thinking at the time about the direction of rock, new ideas that didn’t reflect the same older ideas about rock sensibilities.
Lead singer Anthony Kiedis, said the symbol (shown on this t-shirt) was drawn by him in 1984 on a whim in response to early record label executives wanting to create a band logo that had no specific meaning or representation. It has been referred to as the “Star of Affinity” (stands for chaos), some less savory descriptions by Kiedis himself and has possible connections to an image created by Kurt Vonnegut, the renowned author.
Foreigner 4 T-Shirt | Foreigner
Foreigner was a huge presence in rock and pop music by the time the Foreigner 4 album was released on July 2nd, 1981. It held the #1 position on Billboard’s album chart for a total of 10 weeks. and sold over seven million copies in the US alone.
Since the album was originally called “Silent Partners”, the album jacket design was created with a silent film “leader” appearance, a visual countdown device to indicate when a film would begin. An initial design was created but rejected by the band and the cover version seen on this t-shirt (designed by Bob Defrin) was the final choice. The number 4 was meant to reflect that the band was down to 4 members at that point. Foreigner 4 was heard everywhere in the US during the early 80s, receiving frequent radio airplay and the album cover was highly recognizable, familiar to throngs of both rock and pop fans.
Texas Flood T-Shirt | Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
This album was released on June 13th, 1983 at a time when American Blues music wasn’t really commercially successful yet. Texas Flood, the debut studio album by Stevie Ray Vaughan and his band, Double Trouble, changed all that. As a Texas Blues styled album it shattered previous records of sales for the category and dramatically increased popularity for the genre in a space that was dominated by Rock, New Wave & Pop artists during the early 1980s.
Music legend Jackson Browne, having been in the audience at a Double Trouble performance at the Montreux Casino Lounge in Switzerland was so impressed by Vaughan’s technical ability and style that he offered the band the opportunity to record the album that would become “Texas Flood” in Browne’s personal studio in Los Angeles. The offer was accepted and a hugely popular, iconic album was created. Immediately upon its release, Texas Flood became one of those must-have albums among college records (LPs), and a little bit later, CD collections.
Duran Duran Logo T-Shirt | Duran Duran
Though formed in 1978 in Birmingham England, and being one of the most successful bands of the 80s, Duran Duran didn’t really hit it big in the US pop culture scene until the 24-hour music channel MTV debuted. Duran Duran proceeded to become a recognized source of innovation on MTV using practices like shooting in 35mm film, hiring professional film directors and shooting in exotic locales.
Being frequently classified as “New Wave” music, Duran Duran t-shirts were relatively common from the early to late 80s as a signal of a semi-eclectic personal music style. Today these shirts have retro appeal for many. You may remember seeing Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) wearing the famous Duran Duran t-shirt for the song “Rio” in the movie “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017).
Motley Crue 1983 World Tour T-Shirt | Motley Crue
Formed in 1981 in Los Angeles by four high-school dropouts, Mötley Crüe was a flamboyantly styled heavy metal group synonymous with fun-lovin’ flagrant violations of the law, hard partying and frequent sex. Popular among head-bangin’ youth, Rolling Stone Magazine said “Its main selling points are that adults find it unlistenable, preachers call it blasphemous, and Tipper Gore blushes reading the lyrics”. In the 80s Motley Crue t-shirts signified youth, rebellion and fun for millions of heavy metal fans.
Journey Don’t Stop Believing T-Shirt | Journey
The band Journey really hit its stride and had its greatest commercial success in the 80s. In 1981 through 1983 it seemed that you couldn’t listen to a pop/rock music station without hearing the song “Don’t Stop Believin’”. Shirts associated with the song or the band were a staple of many wardrobes, often including faded jeans and chucks.
Journey’s music had a decidedly mainstream, big-rock appeal and was beloved by those who liked to sing along with their songs at the top of their voices, the only way one could even come close to frontman Steve Perry’s incredible vocal range.
Guns N’ Roses Appetite For Destruction Tour 88 | Guns N Roses
This LA hard rock/heavy metal band was formed in 1985. The Guns N Roses t-shirt pictured here shows a graphic skeletal comic interpretation of frontman/lead singer Axl Rose’s face from the cover of the album “Appetite for Destruction” which was the band’s debut studio album, released in July 1987.
Today we know that the band has continued on since, growing to enormous success and status and becoming one of those household band names that people who have never listened to them have heard of. Iconic of a particular time in the late 80s hard rock scene, this shirt is definitely a sign of those times and of a band that was and still is, loved by millions.
Beastie Boys Licensed To Ill Tour T-Shirt | Beastie Boys
The Beastie Boys recorded and released “Licensed to Ill” on November 15, 1986. Licensed to Ill became one of the best-selling rap albums of the 1980s and the first rap album to go number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, a significant mainstream music achievement, holding that spot for five weeks. Hit songs from the album included “The New Style”, “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)”, “No Sleep till Brooklyn”, “Paul Revere”, “Hold It Now, Hit It” and “Brass Monkey”.
The above-pictured Licensed To Ill t-shirt included the Beastie Boys logo used heavily around 1985 – 1987 and was, at least initially, only available when purchased from a Beastie Boys concert, a hip status symbol of the time.
RUN DMC Classic Logo T-Shirt | RUN DMC
Perhaps one of the most iconic and powerful popular music logos of the 80s, the Run DMC logo t-shirt is a staple for 80s band vintage style. Simple and clean with broad appeal at the time. This logo is reminiscent of black Kangol hats, black Lee jeans, black t-shirts and leather jackets, white Adidas sneakers and gold chains, a style often seen being worn by Darryl McDaniels “D.M.C.” the lead vocalist for the band.
The Police Synchronicity T-Shirt | The Police
On June 17th 1983 The Police released their 5th and final studio album titled “Synchronicity” which became their most successful release as well. At this point, since the late 1970s, the band had been pumping out albums with incredibly popular songs at regular intervals and this contributed to their being one of the biggest bands in the world at the time. Both the album and the t-shirt displaying the album cover artwork became extremely popular during the 80s.