Johanna Blakley

Media | Entertainment | Fashion

The Strange Appeal of Well-Worn T-Shirts

Should you wear this shirt if you weren't there?

I got a call for an interview from NPR’s Planet Money and so it gave me an excuse to revisit a great presentation that Rose Apodaca, formerly of Women’s Wear Daily, gave at the Ready to Share conference.

One thing that Apodaca talked about was the huge black market for t-shirts, particularly rock t-shirts, some of which can fetch $1,000. Now that the exchange of digital music files has put a big ol’ dent in profits in the music industry, it’s sort of odd that t-shirt sales at concerts have become a much more important part of the financial pie. Every major rock concert that I’ve gone to over the last few years has featured a more diverse array of t-shirts than I’ve ever seen before. Inevitably, the one I like best is far more expensive than the others . . . and it also looks more worn in.

Why is it we’re willing to pay a premium for a worn-in look? Apodaca talks about the quest for authenticity, which is right on the money, but with concert t-shirts in particular, there’s another valence as well.  A music concert is a collective experience in one particular place at a certain historical moment. Now that we have the ability to grab and sample from the history of music (whether on P2P networks or iTunes) any time we like (asynchronously), I think we have a pretty deep desire to get back on the same page with one another, to experience music in the moment it happens. Buying and wearing a t-shirt that memorializes that moment signals to the world not only what you like, but where you were one night . . . and maybe they were there too . . .

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