By Shawn McFarland
Co Editor in Chief
It’s Saturday, Sept. 3. Boston’s TD Garden is the latest stop on Kanye West’s St. Pablo tour, and the fan reception is overwhelming. People of all ages and races fill the Garden and its adjacent streets waiting in droves to see one of the most highly acclaimed shows of 2016.
The longest line, however, isn’t into the concourse to see West perform. Rather, fans have filed into the subway station below the actual Garden, wrapping around the entirety of the foyer–and it wasn’t for the music.
In a small room in the corner of the station–no bigger than that of a classroom–laid the St. Pablo merchandise shop. For many concert-goers, this was the prized jewel of the show. Packed with t-shirts, hats and sweatshirts, varying from $50 to $100, it felt as if every fan of musical fashion in the Boston area visited 100 Legends Way that night.
After a one and a half hour wait in line, fans were finally granted access into the shop. Having plenty of time to decide what they wanted to add to their wardrobe, they were instead greeted with ‘we only have XXL and smalls,’ or ‘sorry, we sold out of that style hours ago.’
Every customer decisively paused and cautiously thought out their next action. This moment is the fight or flight scenario for all hypebeasts. I really like that design, or, I can probably fill out an XXL.
Most fans left the room that night with less money in their pockets and an ill-fitting t-shirt on their bodies.
But the St. Pablo merchandise isn’t an outlier. From Chance The Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring World tour to Travis Scott’s Rodeo tour, concert merchandise has been flying off the shelves as if it was the highest of fashion lines at Bodega or Kith.
But in reality, the concert tees are cheap cotton t-shirts, often Gildan products. That hasn’t stopped anybody from buying them however. And it’s not just at the concert that shirts are selling, either. Online marketplaces have become hotbeds for concert tees, with resale markups going anywhere from 30-to-50%.
A $70 St. Pablo longsleeve can go anywhere from $100 to $120 online, and the same can be said about anything from Rodeo, Magnificent Coloring World, Summer Sixteen and more.
The shirts, sweatshirts and other items have turned into more than just expressing your fandom for an artist – it’s become a form of high fashion. Ever since Pac Sun and Kanye West teamed up to make shirts for his Yeezus tour (most of the designs depicting a native american skeleton in some form), the merchandise has ascended to the level of “collectors items” as opposed to clothing.
Now, concert merchandise isn’t anything new. My mom still wears a Prince concert tee from a show she went to when she was younger, and my dad still wears a Bruce Springsteen shirt of the same variety. But, I can’t imagine those shirts selling for anything more than the value of cotton the graphic is printed on.
The likes of Metallica, Slayer and other bands from the 80’s and 90’s popularized concert tees (those of course are now considered vintage) but only recently have they risen to the level of hype they’re at now with rap and hip hop.
They have become an excellent way for artists to make a profit. Chance The Rapper, for example, isn’t signed to a record label. The majority of his income comes from his shows and his merchandise–most of which sells out in minutes when put online.
It’s safe to say that the rise in concert t-shirt popularity coincides with the rise in musicians’ involvement in fashion (Kanye West with Adidas, Future with Reebok, Drake with Jordan Brand, A$AP Rocky, Joey Bada$$ and more).
If the trend continues, we’ll likely see the prices (and resell prices) of concert tees continue to skyrocket, as fans continue to file into arenas just to get their hands on a cheap, overproduced shirt.