Is It Acceptable To Wear A Band’s Merch To Their Show? A Serious Investigation
“It's unbearable. Like, have a bit of subtlety about yourself.”
The rules of gig etiquette have been written over decades, so like any other ancient moral code, they have significant areas of contention.
For every easy-to-follow commandment (Thou Shalt Always Request ‘Freebird’, Thou Shalt Always Turn Off Thy iPhone’s Flash, Thou Must At Least Pretend To Want An Encore Because The Band Factor That Shit Into Their Setlist And So Are Just Hanging About Side Of Stage Waiting For Sufficient Amounts Of Applause) there is a trickier, less obvious one to offset it.
For instance, is it okay to reserve a space at the barrier for your friend while they go to the loo, or should any absence be considered fair game? Can you leave at the start of the second encore to avoid congestion and still call yourself a diehard fan? And, perhaps most pertinently of all, can you wear a band’s merch to their show?
This last problem has plagued gig-goers for centuries. The argument over whether or not one should Wear A Band’s Merch To Their Gig (let’s call it the WABMTTG question) is the kind of probing, philosophical query that literal decades of fretting has done little to solve. So intense is the debate that it threatens to splinter the scene into two opposing camps.
Both sides have valid points, and both sides deserve to be heard. So is wearing a band’s merch to their show a proud display of allegiance, or just a bit daggy? Music Junkee investigates.
The Argument Against
The WABMTTG debate can be further subdivided into two equally murky questions: is it acceptable to wear a band’s merch on the way to their show (WABMTTG-A), and, is it acceptable to wear a random shirt to the show, then change into a piece of merch that you have bought while actually at the show? (WABMTTG-B).
Yet for opponents of WABMTTG, this divide is irrelevant. Either option, as far as they’re concerned, is a grave social faux pas. “I am damn opposed [to WABMTTG],” says David James Young, a music critic who has been to about as many gigs as you’ve had hot dinners. “Damn, damn, damn opposed. I don’t even like wearing shirts of bands that are similar or on the same label or whatever.”
“I never really understand people that go to a Violent Soho gig and wear an AC/DC shirt. It’s like, ‘Wow… you listen to music? Fuck, congrats.’”
Young’s reasoning is simple: “It’s unbearably lame. If you’re not a child or a parent, you shouldn’t be doing it. I even find listening to the artist you’re going to see on the way there to be lame. Like, have a bit of subtlety about yourself.”
Sam Caldwell, founder of alternative music and culture website Dopamine, takes this attitude one step further — he extends the sphere of anti-WABMTTG sentiment to cover any band shirt, not just the merch of the group you’re on the way to see. “I never really understand people that go to a Violent Soho gig and wear an AC/DC shirt,” Caldwell says. “It’s like, ‘Wow… you listen to music? Fuck, congrats.’”
To those who spurn it, WABMTTG just seems rather… well, daggy. Do punters need to try so hard? To head to a gig with an agenda? To treat it as an opportunity to flaunt their taste? “It always seems a little bit like you’re trying to be the number one fan when you show up to a gig wearing the band’s merch,” says music photographer Brianna Elton.
“It’s as though you want to appear like you’re more into the music than everyone else there – particularly if you rock up wearing a shirt from an older tour; you know, you’re wearing the merch the band were selling a few years ago. It just seems like you’re using it as a status symbol. Which just kinda seems silly: there are no tiers of fans at a gig, I don’t think. Everyone is there for the same reason, and on the same level.”
The Argument For
Meanwhile, the pro-WABMTTG camp seems to be slightly more chill about the whole debate. “I just really don’t see the problem with [WABMTTG],” says Spencer Scott, a Newcastle based musician and member of rising stars Paper Thin.
“Stuff like that reminds me of when I first started going to all ages shows in high school and feeling out of place because I wasn’t wearing the right clothes. We just need to let people wear what they want, you know? Does it matter on any level is someone is wearing the shirt of the band they’re seeing?”
“I still like to do it because I love it as a performer when I’m playing and I can see people wearing my merch: it makes me feel real nice and like I have friends in the audience”
Some pro-WABMTTGers don’t even see the decision to wear merch as a particularly contentious one. They’re not wearing a shirt to make some grand overarching point, they’re just wearing what they want to wear.
“A lot of the time I’m wearing what I’m wearing because that’s the band I feel like listening to at the time,” says music photographer Britt Andrews. “So say I’m on the way to a Bennies show, I’ll probably be keen to listen to The Bennies, so I open my drawer, look at all my shirts and go, ‘Sick, The Bennies’ and wear that.”
Yet for many in the camp, wearing a band’s shirt is about giving in to something almost tribal, about surrendering yourself to a group of like-minded people. They’re not doing it to prove anything other than love, they say.
“I used to [WABMTTG] pretty often,” says singer-songwriter Rachel Maria Cox. “Then my friends started teasing me for it because it’s apparently a faux pas or whatever, so I do it less now because I’m very self-conscious.
“But I still like to do it because I love it as a performer when I’m playing and I can see people wearing my merch: it makes me feel real nice and like I have friends in the audience. It’s affirming as a musician, so I assume that other musicians would feel the same way.”
Some even argue that those particularly opposed to a bit of band merch are the ones trying to project a particular image. “Being against [WABMTTG] is probably just about trying really hard to be that cool guy at a gig who listens to bands you don’t know,” says musician Remy Phillips. “That is probably more lame. Just be yourself, wear the comfortable shirt and follow your dreams.”
Joseph Earp is a music and film critic who writes about horror cinema, bad TV, post-punk and The Muppets. He tweets at @TheUnderlook.
Article image via Violent Soho Facebook page