That means contending with a lot of forced interactions or awkward high-fives. Which shirts draw the most attention, and which allow you to fly under the radar? We’ve assembled the definitive list. Wear any of these at your discretion.
For the Love of God, Pay Attention to Me: Nirvana (Smiley Face Tee)
You couldn’t garner more attention if you walked down Central Avenue mid-morning on fire while playing the tuba. This is the band tee that screams, "I am so deeply cool, and you all need to recognize the depths of my hipness." If some band tees bring unwanted attention, the "Smiley" is the only item for those who actively seek validation from perfect strangers.
Ranking on the Attention Meter: 10 — What’s the opposite of vanishing completely?
On three separate occasions, I’ve been stopped by gentlemen in tank tops who were compelled to comment enthusiastically on my Wu-Tang shirt. Two of these encounters occurred back to back during St. Patrick’s Day 2016 in Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood. If you wear this shirt, the Brians and Shauns of the world will always think you’re their BFF.
Ranking on the Attention Meter: 9.1 — Wear at your own risk.
Instant Credibility or Immediate Ridicule: Misfits (Skull and Logo Tee)
This is a shirt where the reactions depend entirely on the people you'll encounter. A casual fan might nod enthusiastically or throw up the devil horns. More hardcore fans, meanwhile, will instantly deem you a fake fan worthy of a solid beating. (Full disclosure: I've been both.) When wearing this shirt, always square your shoulders and walk around with fists balled to project adequate strength.
Ranking on the Attention Meter: 8.2 — Those evil eyes only sting briefly.
There’s almost no respectable way to wear perhaps one of the most iconic tees in all of rock fandom. Everything from Star Wars to Jaws has spoofed this iconic design, transforming it into less of a statement on Joy Division’s lasting creative legacy and more of just another bad cultural joke. It’s now akin to those awful "Big Dogs" tees from the '90s.
Ranking on the Attention Meter: 7.3 — Is this really worth it?
Causing a Panic Among Decent People: The Smiths (Meat Is Murder Tee)
Morrissey has become a sad lil' shell of a man that lacks sufficient relevance to make up for his awful personal politics. Wear a Smiths shirt at your own peril.
Ranking on the Attention Meter: 6.5 — Heaven knows you’ll still be miserable.
A Lesson in the Natural Order of Things: Ramones (Presidential Seal Tee)
If this shirt were animal skin, it’d belong to a secondary consumer (i.e., snakes and foxes), those buggers right in the middle of the natural world pyramid. Meaning, for some folks (culture guard types and aging punks), the Ramones shirt is an easy target. But there’s always those who’d avoid confrontation given the band’s legacy among the punk pack. Ain’t nature swell?
Ranking on the Attention Meter: 5.2 — At least it's not made of chinchilla.
The Shirt for The End of the World: Pink Floyd (Prism Tee)
Here’s a real humdinger of a rock shirt. Yes, people will instantly recognize this epic tee, and likely some will want to celebrate that shared fandom. But to some degree, that notoriety lessens as overbearing boomers and rock bros alike become less abundant in the musical ecosystem. At some point, wearing this shirt may actually be solely for those devout Floyd fans.
Ranking on the Attention Meter: 4.4 — As fleeting as your childlike wonder.
There's almost no way to wear a Radiohead tee and not draw some recognition. As much as this fan base loves to celebrate their heroes, they're not exactly the brahs that will harass you on the way to the pharmacy. At most, you'll earn a gentle head nod or the eager smiling face of someone hoping for forced conversation. Just don't mention The King of Limbs, and you'll be fine.
Ranking on the Attention Meter: 3.6 — No annoying androids to fuss with.
Without compiling the necessary data, you could wear this shirt every day for five years, and maybe 20 people would notice. But that’s a plus: It’s a way to identify the realest members of the Ween tribe. Plus, you could have fun with this one, and tell people it’s Dennis the Menace or a self-made design.
Ranking on the Attention Meter: 2.8 — Enjoy your cloak of pseudo-visibility.