We spoke to the man who is committed to never wearing the same band shirt twice.
Isac Walter has a lot of band T-shirts. Currently the number hovers around 3,000, though he admits he's never counted. Walter is the sartorial mastermind behind Minor Thread—the perfect punk rock pun—a blog which combines Walter's passion for music with his endless thirst to acquire band T-shirts.
Minor Thread began when Walter wanted to see if he could wear a different band T-shirt from his collection for 500 days in a row. He met that goal easily, and he decided to keep going up to 1,000 days; he has now reached well over that. When I ask how many more days he has left of the project, Walter divulges he has at least 2,000 more shirts he hasn't worn, and he continues to acquire more. "It's potentially a never ending project," he tells me over the phone from his home in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.
Walter has been working in the music industry his entire life. He started out working at a record store in his 20s, then went on to various jobs at record labels, eventually landing the role of Editor-in-Chief at Myspace's music site from 2005-2011. These days he does music supervising but is primarily taking it easy, devoting plenty of time to his passion project of collecting T-shirts.
On his blog, Walter blasts a stream of consciousness about the shirt he's wearing, his relationship with the band in question, and whatever musical minutiae happens to be on his mind (On Tommy Lee playing with the Smashing Pumpkins: "do you really want the guy who sticks his dick in a burrito to remove the smell of pussy on it so he doesn't get busted for cheating in your band?"). The blog is peppered with typos, and while Walter's command of the keyboard may be tenuous, you can't help but be drawn in by his profound passion and encyclopedic knowledge of SoCal 90s punk rock. We spoke to Walter about where his passion for band shirts started and where he sees this hobby taking him:
Noisey: So tell me about the first concert T-shirt you ever bought.
Isac Walter: That's a tough one, I don't know if I can actually track down the first one. It all started out because I would go to a show for free and buy a shirt from the band to support them because I mooched my way into the show. So I always felt like, "Oh I'll give them some money, I'll buy some merch off of them." That's the best way to put money directly into the band's hands for gas, food etc. I still go to shows on a regular basis, and I still get in free, so I still buy shirts. Actually I probably do remember. It was a Devo shirt, from whenever New Traditionalists came out. It was a horrible teal green shirt with black sleeves and a picture of the astronaut on the sleeves. It was 1981. It's the one they're wearing on the cover of the album, and they sold it at the show. I do not have it still unfortunately.
What happened to it?
Shirts blow up, or they get stained. When you have a lot of shirts they escape you. People steal them. I blame a lot of ex-girlfriends. You know, they're like, "I love that shirt, I'm going to wear it." Then all of a sudden it disappears.
So what shirt have you had the longest?
It's probably a Descendents shirt that I mail-ordered. I used to work at this frozen yogurt place in Sacramento, and I would steal money from there and just mail order stuff. I'm a bad person. That was the only way you could get merch back then, aside from being at the actual show. So I just ordered stuff from weird mail-order catalogs or from the bands directly. It was a Descendents '86 tour shirt. I didn't get to go to the show, but I could appreciate it through the shirt.
You mentioned on your blog that one of your favorite parts of this project is the history and the archival process that this project unleashes. So what is the most sentimental memory you have attached to a band T-shirt?
Every shirt you get from a show that is just a mind-blowing show is one of those for me. It's hard to pin it down, there are so many little memories from each different event. There are shirts I have memories from that don't even relate to going to the show. There's a NOFX Cokie the Clown shirt, which reminds me of this time when I spent the entire day hanging out with Fat Mike in Austin, Texas. He was basically being really raw and honest about his life. I think he normally is, but I'd never experienced it firsthand. Then he did a show at SXSW where he pretended to piss in these tequila shots and give them to the audience.
Then there's a shirt for Strangeways, Here We Come, which is my favorite Smiths album. As a kid I had that cassette in my first car, and it was stuck in my tape player. So every day on the way to high school and back that's all I listened to for a year, until the tape deck eventually ate the tape. So when I hear that record it automatically makes me feel like I'm driving to high school again, and I can smell the interior of my car and picture the route I'm driving when I see that shirt.
Where do you find most of your shirts?
I would say 75 percent of my collection I bought at shows. Then I buy some off eBay. I'm always trying to track down shirts from shows that I went to and I had but got lost along the way. For instance, a few weeks back I wore this Green Day shirt from a Valentine's Day show in 1992. I distinctly remember having that shirt, but it was made on those horrible white shirts that you would buy at K-mart or something, that cost you $5 for a 3-pack. I think it just fell apart. Then I happened to see one up on eBay, so I bought it. Occasionally I'll remake a shirt that doesn't exist or costs $500 on eBay or something like that just so I can have a copy of it.
So you would never spend $500 on a perfectly aged vintage Rolling Stones T-shirt? What's the most you've ever spent on a shirt?
I tracked down and bought a shirt from the first punk rock show I ever went to, which was a 7 Seconds shirt. It was $120 but well worth it. It was the first punk rock show I ever went to, in the 8th grade, so it was pretty important to me to own it. Also, the Rolling Stones don't hold any meaning for me. Not to crap on the Rolling Stones. They're a great band, but I don't have any personal relationship with them. Whereas, say, a band like Green Day who I've seen 35 times at Gilman Street [a punk rock venue in Berkeley, CA] growing up, I have more of a relationship with.
As a collector, how important is the rarity of a shirt for you? If a T-shirt had a really awesome design but was mass-produced from Urban Outfitters would you still buy it?
(Audibly scoffs) I would definitely poo-poo that. If something is being reprinted on a massive scale and being sold at Urban Outfitters, it's not special anymore. Whereas if the band themselves say, "We're going to reprint this shirt from '86, and we're only going to make 200," that's kind of special again.
Are there shirts you have that you want to wear more often than others?
Unfortunately, because I'm doing this project I haven't gone back to a shirt in 1,052 days. I usually just wash them and hang dry them, then stick them in a plastic tub and store it in the basement until I need to go back through. I only collect shirts that fit me, which is unfortunate at times because if you want a really cool shirt from the 80s, it's almost impossible to find something that fits a present-day large. An XL from 1980 is like a small, for some reason. Shirts weren't as important back then. I think the criteria for a shirt in 1980 was that they had to have two holes for you arms, a hole for your head, and an exit for the body. That's it.
Is there a certain brand that makes the best T-shirts?
I'm from an older generation where I like a thicker shirt and a bigger collar. I know kids growing up nowadays have a much nicer idea of what a T-shirt is. It's all relative. A 50/50 is the perfect shirt—half cotton, half polyester. Something that wears out a little bit but will still stand the test of time. I like a regular Fruit of the Loom shirt best for me. An American Apparel shirt is not going to age the same. It won't look like a vintage shirt in 20 years. It'll just be weirdly stretched out.
Do you own any joke T-shirts of bands you don't particularly care for?
I would say the closest thing to that I have would be an R. Kelly shirt. He's questionable personally, but there's definitely a few songs of his that I like. I think he's a really great entertainer, but I wouldn't say that I could recite the entire R. Kelly catalog from start to finish. I actually do have a Kanye West shirt, and I can't stand him.
What about your Lily Allen shirt?
True. But I put on that show, which is the only reason I have that shirt. It's from a show that I did when I was working at Myspace.
Of all the things people collect, T-shirts are definitely the least creepy. It's not like you have containers of Cabbage Patch Dolls sitting in your basement.
That's true, I don't have a glass case at home. I just display them on my body one day and then move on to the next.
How do you feel about the concert T-shirt etiquette rules?
I haven't heard of those.
Well, Rule Number 1 is you're not supposed to wear the T-shirt of the band to their own show. And Rule Number 2 is that if you buy a shirt at the show, do not under any circumstances put on that shirt at the same show.
I adhere to that rule religiously. It's kind of like rolling up to the concert of the band you're going to see blaring them on your stereo. It's like, "Yeah, I get it. You really like this band. You're super psyched to see them." I will not do it, because I don't want to be That Guy. But I'm also the guy who will go to a Slayer concert wearing an R. Kelly shirt and not think twice about it. I don't give a fuck.
Haha! One time I wore a Bad Religion shirt to a Coldplay concert. So who would you say you have the most shirts of?
It's definitely Descendents, by default. On top of them being one of my favorite bands, they really have a good grasp on their merchandise game. They'll make a shirt for one specific show, then it sells out, and that's it. So if you decide, "Oh, I'm not going to buy that shirt," then you blew it, and it'll always be on your mind. It gives you that sense of – what's that acronym?
That's it. Fear of missing out.
Could you quickly list you top five favorite bands of all time?
I don't have five, but I have three which I could easily nail. Descendents, New Order, and The Smiths. They're bands I listened to growing up and I still appreciate. I still listen to them now as much as I did when I was a teenager.
Last question. On March 20th, 2014 you wore an awesome Drive Like Jehu shirt. Have you ever visited Donut Friend, the donut shop owned by Drive Like Jehu's drummer, Mark Trombino?
I have most definitely. I'm a big fan of the Jets to Brazil. It's kind of like eating a Snickers with a fork and knife though. It takes donuts to the next level.
Isabel Slone is a fashion writer living in Toronto. She is on Twitter.
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