Modern t-shirts are great—there are a ton of young, talented designers in the field creating shirts that are both stylish and innovative. Vintage t-shirts, however, just have a certain charm. An original vintage rock t-shirt just emits a certain magical aura. Sure, modern ‘retro’ t-shirts can reprint old designs, but there’s something lost in translation. This little showcase features ten great designs from years gone by—the top of the old school class.
Blue Oyster Cult
This design was created for 1982’s Extraterrestrial Live. It feature’s Blue Oyster Cult’s standard mixture of science fiction and occult mysticism, but the dogs add something a little bit weirder to it. Beyond that, the greyscale-with-a-hint-of-red color scheme is great. The background of the piece is also super intricate, and features the band’s logo in a subtle place. This is a great t-shirt that really stood out against the shirts that flamboyant glam rock and thrash metal bands were producing.
This shirt comes from 1988, straight from the Lap of Luxury tour. At this point, Cheap Trick had pretty much abandoned their strange early mixture of punk, new wave and hard rock and gone a bit more in the pop direction. This shirt reflects that. The band’s classic logo looks great here behind and in front of the band members, and there’s a real kind of calculated-abstraction in those splashes of color. A great design that perfectly encapsulates the pop-rock hit machine Cheap Trick had become.
Guns N Roses
What can I say? This shirt is pretty strange. Straight out of 1992, this t-shirt features a really morbid design with some very early 90s aesthetics. The almost-confetti pattern of the bright colors was popular at the time, but GNR’s designer incorporated it into the architecture and made it resemble neon splashes of blood. This might not be the most famous GNR shirt design, but it’s as nasty and provocative as anything else the band did in their heyday.
From his 1978 tour, this Bob Dylan shirt is pretty odd. Upon first glance, this whimsical design featuring animals and bicycle doesn’t really reflect the master songwriter’s folk style. Upon closer analysis, however, it becomes a little bit sinister. In fact, it seems to take on life as a parody of similar shirts by fluffy pop rock bands of the day. Whatever Mr. Dylan’s intentions were, this is a shirt that’s strange enough to stand out in a crowd, and it eschews the normal ‘picture of Bob Dylan with his name written under it’ t-shirt design.
This one comes from 1988, and it just doesn’t get much more 80s than this. New Order was a band that mastered post-punk, new wave and synth pop—they had a huge impact across most popular musical genres of the decade. The way the letters in the band’s name bleed into each other with their bright colors works great with the black background. The shirt is radiant but also somewhat mechanical looking, which is perfect for a New Order t-shirt.
This is another one from the late 80s, 1989 to be precise. The Buzzcocks got popular in the late 70s, but they made good music into the next decade. This design shows a more mature version of the band. Their photo looks great inside of the skewed orange square, which in turn looks perfect inside of the straight border and in front of the black backdrop. The band’s classic logo tops off an unconventional but excellent punk rock t-shirt.
From a designer’s perspective, the Descendents’ aesthetic is a dream come true. Each album has a simple, similar design, but each also has its own feel and personality. This is one of those rare cases where an album design translates perfectly into a t-shirt. The colors also rise above the normal black and white punk fare, and give this Descendents shirt a charm other than “delightfully anarchic.”
Here’s another late 80s gem. This classic is simple in design and color, but it stands out because of its bold, bare bones format. The thick lines and bright, primary colors look great with the stars and no-nonsense lettering. Beyond that, there’s a great sort of symmetry to this shirt that many designs of that era could never quite pull off.
This is the definition of a classic rock and roll t-shirt. Van Halen was no small bar band in 1979, but this shirt tells of simpler times. The VH logo is hard to beat, and it looks amazing in these subtle colors on a black field. This is, in my opinion, THE perfect vintage, no-frills Van Halen t-shirt. Accept no substitutes.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Hailing from 1984, this is a classic American rock t-shirt if there ever was one. The old New Jersey license plate embossed with the band’s name looms large over a pink Cadillac streaking down the freeway into the setting sun. The colors are also more subtle than they could be which makes this a tasteful homage to the music (and American Dream) of yesteryear instead of an eye-bleeding spectacle. The use of color, perspective and balance on this shirt is incredible. If only all rock t-shirts were this great!
Alice Jenkins is a graphic designer, writer, and avid t-shirt wearer. She enjoys blogging about all aspects of design, but is particularly interested in current trends in pop and alternative-culture fashion. She writes for youdesignit.com.