I can't pinpoint exactly when in my younger years I became aware of the unofficial rule of never wearing a t-shirt of the band whose concert you are going to see, but I can tell you that I have decided that this rule is a bit antiquated and downright silly.
As far as I'm aware, this rule really only applies to the genres of metal, hard rock and punk rock (for my purposes, I'll only be addressing metal shows in this post). Something tells me that Kenny Chesney, Taylor Swift, Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, Usher and Pink fans don't mock fellow fans for wearing a t-shirt by the performer whose concert they are attending. Now there are exceptions to the rule like Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Metallica, Slayer, Slipknot, Kiss and Motley Crue where it is considered acceptable to wear that band's t-shirt to their shows (that isn't a comprehensive list...just good examples of artists who fit the bill). Why those bands are considered exceptions to the rule has never been properly explained to my knowledge...the answer is simply "just because". One commonality between those bands is that they are all successful and fill arenas (Slayer might not quite fill arenas, but it is still agreed that they are fairly popular). So, I suppose the unspoken rule might be that if a band has reached beyond a metal fanbase and established themselves as somewhat of an institution in popular culture, then it is acceptable to wear their shirts to their concerts because you are part of the "army" of fans (hopefully Gene Simmons doesn't see this and sue me for copyright infringement for using the word "army"). I think Green Day would be a comparable example of this same behavior in the punk rock world.
But, I'm not really here to talk about the exceptions to the rule, but rather the rule itself. Last November I went to see The Black Dahlia Murder with openers Skeletonwitch, Toxic Holocaust and Trap Them. I love me some Skeletonwitch and one of my favorite t-shirts that I own (and I define favorite by best fitting and comfortable) happens to be one of theirs. While getting dressed before leaving for the show, I grabbed my Skeletonwitch t-shirt and threw it on. There wasn't any particular thought process behind it, I simply felt like wearing that shirt that evening. I went to the show with four other people and took grief from all of them once they realized I was wearing a Skeletonwitch shirt to a show where Skeletonwitch was playing. Not a one of them had a persuasive argument as to why I was in the wrong, but simply stated that I was being "that guy" ("that guy" of course being the person who dares to wear the t-shirt of a band whose show they are at that isn't one of the accepted exceptions to the rule). Upon arriving at the show, we bumped into a guy that we knew and he gave me a bit of grief about it too. Two days later one of my best friends who wasn't at the show IM'ed me and said "You wore a Skeletonwitch shirt to a Skeletonwitch show?". My friend had heard it from his friend who was friends with the guy that we had bumped into at the show. I can't say for fact that the guy was so annoyed and/or bothered by it that he was running around telling everyone or if it just simply came up in conversation (something along the lines of "Hey, you know that guy that is friends with your buddy..."), but either way it struck me as not only a ridiculous topic of conversation to be having with someone, but also as typical scene police bullshit. [For the record, the guy in question is perfectly nice and a cool dude, I'm just picking on him a little bit in this post because it helps to illustrate my point.]
Metal was established as and always will be an outsider's style of music regardless of mainstream acceptance of certain bands from the genre. It is in theory a culture for people who are open minded, like to think outside of the box, don't want to conform to the mainstream in appearance or in way of thinking and certainly a genre where you should be able to dress however the hell you feel like. In other words, it is about being yourself. Unfortunately, in my many years of proudly being a metalhead, I have found that a lot of metalheads can turn out to be some of the most close-minded, elitist snobs in the music world (and a lot are the polar opposite). This ridiculous rule about what t-shirts one can and cannot wear to shows is a prime example of this. The fact that a genre with such a pervasive machismo attitude has a large majority of men in their fanbase who do not see the absurdity in judging what other men are wearing to shows is quite amusing. Isn't it just about the music and not a fashion show? Who cares what the guy standing next to you is wearing as it in no way impacts your enjoyment of the evening (or it shouldn't at least). Being a metalhead means being part of a community, not getting a badge to be a lieutenant in the fashion police. I'll never forget going to see Killswitch Engage at Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan and a guy saying in a sarcastic tone to me "Nice shirt." as I squeezed past him in a sweater and collared shirt to get to the bar. Sorry that I had to come to the show straight from my day job that I wasn't allowed to wear Cannibal Corpse t-shirts and jeans to pal. Next time, I'll try to adhere to your fashion rules for metalcore shows. But I'm getting off topic...
Skeletonwitch played an amazing set that night and I wound up heading to their merch booth and getting another shirt after they finished. This got me thinking about what the band's think about the t-shirt rule. If I was in Skeletonwitch (or The Black Dahlia Murder or Toxic Holocaust or Trap Them who also played that night), then I would be super stoked to look out in the crowd and see a bunch of kids wearing Skeletonwitch t-shirts (especially if it was shirts that were being sold at the merch booth that evening). I'm sure bands are always happy to play to a crowded room and get a positive reaction, but wouldn't the cherry on top be seeing a healthy chunk of people in attendance wearing your shirts? It would mean not only are they YOUR fans, but they are also spending money at your merch booth (a big part of how bands make a living these days). I would think bands would be psyched to see people wearing their shirts at their shows, but I'm not in a band, so what do I know.
Anyway, I don't suppose I've necessarily presented a great counter argument to the t-shirt rule at metal shows, other than stating that I think it is snobby, stupid and asinine, but hopefully I've given you something more to think about than a simple "just because".
See you next time Skeletonwitch comes to town. I'll be the guy in the Skeletonwitch t-shirt.