God bless the human magpies, for without them, finds like this wouldn’t come to light: Erna “Shelly” Hammer, an erstwhile DJ for the once-mighty Z Rock chain of heavy metal radio stations (under the name “Shelly Steel,” because evidently “Hammer” was somehow an insufficiently metal surname on its own…?), is exhibiting her collection of metal and alt-rock t-shirts, ranging in vintage from the early ‘80s to the mid ‘90s. In her lifetime of collecting, she’s discarded very little—what’s on display is a fraction of what she’s kept from her many years as an avid concertgoer, and from her time on the promo gravy train.
This is a good place to mention that this has been been a good week for vintage metal tees—Craig “The Human Clock” Giffen posted an amazing bit of pop culture archaeology (formatted in an amazingly archaic HTML style) endeavoring to catalog all the t-shirts spotted in Jeff Krulik’s classic short documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot. By all means, take a minute to check it out, this post’ll still be here when you get back.
If you happen to be in Northeast Ohio, you can see these shirts on display in a show called “You Are What You Wear” at poster artist Derek Hess’ eponymous gallery through mid-summer. They aren’t being offered for sale piece-by-piece, but when she talked with us about her, um, wardrobe archive, Hammer implied that selling them off in a single lot for the right sum wouldn’t be out of the question.
Hammer: The first real rock shows I went to, I was 15, and this guy I worked with at this diner first took me with him and his friends to see Aerosmith, and then a few months later, Kiss. I was in awe. I didn’t really get to go to too many more shows until I was driving, so I mail ordered shirts, whatever I could get.
Hammer: I had an awful lot, but I wore them—you can see some of them are pretty beat up, stretched, over-laundered. I bought them to wear, there was no intention of collecting. The only ones I got rid of were when I moved, I got rid of a bunch that were promo when I worked in radio, for bands I didn’t really care about. I got rid of a whole crate! All of the shirts from bands that meant something to me, I hung on to.
Hammer: I never thought about selling them. When I got asked to do the exhibit, I was even skeptical about that, I asked “do people really want to look at a bunch of shirts?” and they assured me it would be cool. But there’s always a price on everything, you know. And eventually, after turning 50, it’s normal to want to start downsizing. So they could be for sale. But there’d still be one or two I’d have to hang on to.
Hammer: The one thing I love about shirts, it’s kind of like a club. When you see someone in a concert shirt by a band you like somewhere, especially if it’s a remote place where you don’t expect it, you feel a brotherhood or sisterhood with that person you know saw the same show as you did—they’re conversation starters!