I remember the first band shirt I ever bought (or rather, got my mom to buy me, because at 13, disposable income was very much an unfamiliar concept). It was printed with thick, metallic ink on a sturdy Gildan men’s small that enveloped my gangly torso in a black tent of fabric and made me feel unspeakably badass. I loved it, and from then on out, as I got more involved in metal and punk, I bought many, many more until somewhere down the line, I discovered that my wardrobe had turned entirely black. Had I known back then that if was possible to buy a band shirt in a smaller size, let alone one that was tailored to accommodate the curve of my waist and lack of blocky masculine haplessness, you bet I’d have started saving up my birthday money. As it stood, I was just happy to have found a shirt that almost fit, and now, a dozen years later, I find myself marooned on that same scratchy, awkward island. Is it too much to ask to be able to exchange my hard-earned dollars for a shirt that will serve the dual functions of showing support for my favorite band without making it look like I’ve run off with my teenage brother’s hockey jersey?
The whole idea of gendered merch may be problematic for some who wonder whether it’s really necessary to plunk pentagram-emblazoned G-strings and spaghetti-strap tank tops down next to the other wares on display, you know, just to make sure that the ladies know which items are for them (probably not the 3XL short-sleeved T-shirt festooned with blood and guts, right girls?). That sort of sexist thinking does exist, but is generally not as pervasive as one might think. I’m coming from a metal/punk perspective here, but the same divide can be seen at other kinds of gigs, as well. More and more bands are offering shirts that accommodate a smaller, curvier figure (not necessarily a “skinny” one), and it’s made it that much more pleasant to spend my money at their merch tables. Kudos to them. Personally, I support the existence of gendered merch, up to a reasonable point. If a band tosses a few pairs of panties out alongside a selection of shirts geared to fit any sort of person, it’s cool by me; I think they’re cute, and own a fair few pairs of Possessed undies myself. My size also colors my perspective; I’m tall and pretty slender, so it’s tough to find something that both hugs my waist and covers my torso, but if I was larger or more partial to loose-fitting clothes, I might be less annoyed by the sizing options offered by men’s shirts. That’s no reason that options shouldn’t be offered, though.
One problem that arises is splashed right there on the front of the shirt. Some bands seem to think that girls and women aren’t interested in overly brutal or “metal” imagery, and just want pink sparkles and cute cartoons instead, which is both patronizing and overwhelmingly false. Metal gear is metal gear no matter what gender you may be, and there are scores of women who are perfectly fine throwing on a battered leather jacket and ratty Bolt Thrower shirt. Do you really think that a woman who’s traveled a few hours to see a Demigod, Abominable Putridity, or Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult gig wants a shirt with a fucking purple unicorn on it? While some women might prefer more traditionally feminine designs, the kind of lady who wants to wear a Cannibal Corpse shirt will generally have no problem with blood-splattered merch – please don’t try to write her off with a sad little logo or self-consciously “girly” sugar-and-spice design instead. Our delicate feminine sensibilities won’t be offended, I promise you.
As far as shirt sizing goes, the majority of bands who manufacture these sorts of designs genuinely do want to offer another option for their fans, even if they miss the mark sometimes. In the States at least, there have been much higher numbers of female fans coming out to metal gigs even just in the past five years, and it’s a beautiful thing! There are still fewer women than men at metal shows, but all it takes is doing a bit of math and placing a smaller shirt order to keep from being burdened by leftover stock. The prevalence of the hated “babydoll” shirt, cut high, low, or very tight (or all three!) notwithstanding, plenty of bands that are smart and have a bit of good business sense have started making more sizes available, and the fitted, more female-friendly style of band shirt has become much less difficult to find. It used to be impossible to find anything to fit if you were on the thinner side, but now, there’s a lot more available for people of any size, from extra-extra small tank tops to 5XL and up. Bands that acknowledge their smaller-framed fans by providing these kinds of options ultimately make more money on merchandise sales, because there’s a whole other segment of their fanbase that can now purchase a shirt that fits. Of course, not all women are comfortable buying “ladies’ fit” shirts for a variety of reasons, but plenty of others are; we should be given the choice, at least. The option always exists to just buy a larger size and alter it to achieve a desired size/design, of course, and many people would do this anyway. I’ve done it myself countless times. In the interest of fairness, though, should I really have to put in the extra effort to cut and sew and pin together a shirt just so it won’t hang off my frame like a muumuu?
My overall point after this extended rant is a simple one. Bands that want to show that they truly appreciate their fans (and realize that said fans come in a variety of shapes and sizes!) should try to accommodate them a bit more, for everyone’s benefit. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.