Print Merch For Women, Please
Posted on February 20, 2015
February 20, 2015 | by Kate Whittle
Enough with the t-shirts already.
Almost inevitably, when I go to a show, cash in hand, and survey the merch table, it’s the same story: boxy, crewneck men’s t-shirts. These are great if you’re the kind of dude who wears basic, boxy T-shirts on a daily basis. However, they can be really boring and unflattering if you are a feminine-presenting person, i.e., not a dude. And pro tip: not all of us are dudes. Crazy, I know!
Sure, it’s easy and cheap to just order a bunch of basic men’s tees without a second thought, especially if you’re a small-time band with limited funds. A friend of mine—who I’ll call Grant, since that’s his name—plays in a local band, and when I asked him why they only screenprinted men’s shirts, he paused, and said, “I hadn’t really thought about it.” After consideration, he added, “I don’t think women would buy our shirts.”
Um, well, for one, *I* am a woman who has bought Grant’s band’s T-shirts, and so have a few of our mutual female friends. I wasn’t really that surprised at what he said, even though Grant is one of the best guys I know when it comes to respecting women as people. (Hi, Grant!) After all, we live in a patriarchal culture that views men’s bodies and experiences as the default. We also live in a world where women’s clothes—and products marketed to women in general—are more expensive even if they use less fabric. And thus: the ubiquity of the goddamn men’s T-shirt.
Do you ever go to shows and notice that women are wearing a lot of cut-up or altered T-shirts? It’s not necessarily because we are such great seamstresses. Women’s clothing is typically stretchy, more form-fitting and has generous necklines, and that’s what many of us are accustomed to wearing. (Mind you, women are not a monolith, and I’m primarily speaking from observations about me and my friends’ experience.)
Sometimes, I get drunk and buy the men’s T-shirt anyway, thinking I’ll just cut it up and sew it into a shape that fits me better. Time and time again, I remember that I’m really lousy at sewing. Consequently, my dresser drawer is stuffed with mangled tees that are relegated to pajama shirts or gym wear.
And yeah, I have plenty of other clothes to wear. But this matters because dude-centric merch is one of the most obvious signs that so much of the rock, punk and metal scene is by and for men.
Band merch also makes a difference when it comes to the perception about who is really a fan. Women almost always have to prove from the get-go that they care about the music—Lauren Measure has written about this at length. We make a lot of assumptions about people based on what outfit they wear; and we assert a lot of our identity through the band logos we display. Being the chick in the Torche shirt at a metal show makes a difference in how I get treated, believe me.
Look: if it matters to you whether women are included in your scene, the kind of merch you carry is an easy way to make that apparent. You might think that women won’t buy your band’s shirts, but when we’re conditioned to expect that band shirts won’t be made for us, we’re not very likely to bring cash to buy any. I’m not going to harp on broke bands who need to stretch their dollars and perceive T-shirts as being the best way to do that. But I’m asking people who order merch to at least consider what audience you are catering to, and what ways you can show that you are at least trying to be inclusive.
I also really appreciate artists who print other kinds of merch, especially useful, non-gendered stuff like mugs, scarves and beanies. Because let’s be real: the last thing most of us needs is another T-shirt.
Kate Whittle is a Montana-based writer who wishes Joyce Manor would print a tank top. Follow her @kettlemt.