Concert tees, cult film posters, famous figures, or TV series: merchandising is leaving the fanbase niche to become a streetwear trend.
T-shirts, jackets, hats, jogger pants, and even sneakers: 2023 marked the return of the Merch style, though it’s 2024 that will solidify its presence.
We saw it last October with the highly anticipated collaboration between adidas and KoRn, the famous Nu-Metal group from the ’90s, who dedicated an iconic song to the trefoil brand, aptly named “A.D.I.D.A.S.” At the time, American band fans dreamed of wearing KoRn-branded adidas t-shirts and caps, but the two parties never reached a commercial agreement. Instead, KoRn decided to sign with Puma.
KoRn’s fanbase had to wait 26 years before they could wear a hoodie and even two sneaker models in collaboration with adidas.
As one might easily guess, back then, this capsule would have remained a cherished and well-preserved relic, relevant only to the band’s fans. Today, however, merchandising represents a growing trend, having seen several resurgences throughout the decade, now worn by celebrities like Bella Hadid, Rihanna, and Kendall Jenner, becoming a global source of inspiration.
What’s the name for the concert merchandising style?
There’s no specific term for defining this trend, but it’s easy to speculate that if you just add the word “Core” to any new trend, this would certainly be “MerchCore.”
The first strong indication that MerchCore would become a genuine streetwear fashion occurred in 2018, during Travis Scott’s AstroWorld Tour. Travis Scott decided to create t-shirts, hoodies, hats, and jogger pants featuring the dates of his shows in America, Canada, and the UK, selling them both during the concerts and online. The online merch sold out immediately, generating global hype and marking the first rush for world tour souvenirs by those who hadn’t attended the concert. The collection’s highly sought-after pieces were resold at stellar prices.
When did the trend of concert merchandising begin?
Its origins are challenging to trace, but it’s believed that the teenage “Bobby-soxers” of the 1940s played a role in its creation, scribbling the names of their favorite musicians on their clothes and proudly wearing them. Many early designs were unofficial – the first concert t-shirt was created by an Elvis fan club in the late ’50s – but bands and promoters quickly noticed the trend and decided to capitalize on it by creating official merchandise. This pleased everyone: dedicated fans had their shirts, and promoters and artists made money.
In the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s, the first protest and peace tees became popular, alongside those of rock bands. This was because the U.S. Military was engaged in a long and deadly war in Vietnam that was essentially futile. Hippies began to gather for peaceful protests, resisting police intervention with symbols of tranquility like daisies and peace signs. Their protests also involved politically engaged musicians who recorded protest songs and played a key role in pressuring the U.S. government to withdraw its troops from the Asian Country.
Many of these politically engaged musicians, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead, were associated with Bill Graham, a war veteran who emerged as one of the world’s most famous tour promoters. Although driven by capitalism and the desire for money, Graham was one of the first to ensure that medical staff were present at every concert and played a key role in building the West Coast‘s musical legacy. He dedicated himself to tour merchandising, giving rise to the infamous Grateful Dead merch, the material of which is still in high demand today.
The concert merch phenomenon exploded in the late ’70s with the rise of stadium rock. AC/DC was the first band to earn more from merch sales than from tour tickets, solidifying their legacy not only as a musical force but also a cultural one. Bands like KISS followed suit, creating entire collections of bobbleheads and low-cost souvenirs that were quickly devoured by their most avid fans. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, among others, rode this wave, increasing their t-shirt sales at an unprecedented rate.
In the ’90s, the passion for merchandising reached its peak, primarily thanks to the metal, grunge, and rap music genres, which were considered niche at the time. Fans felt the need to openly display their affiliation with these musical communities, sending an implicit message that sounded like “I was there” at that concert. Wearing a band’s t-shirt conveyed a clear message of distinctiveness from others; the general subtext was that they were rebellious or individualistic.
From a niche music phenomenon to a mainstream trend.
From a subcultural phenomenon linked to the music scene, merchandising then became a passing trend, mainly fueled by the widespread popularity of vintage fashion. Today, it’s considered an integral part of streetwear fashion, albeit with modified characteristics: a bit less naive and more focused on style.
Streetwear fashion has shown a strong interest in graphics related to concerts and artists, both real and inspirational for fonts and patterns. MerchCore has found its natural expression in streetwear style, expanding into a market that spans multiple generations, fans, and non-fans.
MerchCore has become a constant presence in street style photos around the world, worn mainly by celebrities.
Yet, some will remember when Kim Kardashian and Kendall Jenner were photographed wearing Metallica and Slayer T-shirts, sparking anger and criticism from fans of the two bands, who accused the sisters of irreparably damaging the merchandising of the Heavy Metal scene?
Now, anything goes it’s streetwear, it’s MerchCore.