Ripped: T-Shirts from the Underground

Lydia Lunch, Thurston Moore and Betsey Johnson contribute to a new book documenting a '70s- and '80s-era tee collection

Images: © Ripped: T-Shirts from the Underground

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A testament to the post-punk art and music scene of the ’70s and ’80s, “Ripped: T-Shirts from the Underground” offers a visual history of the time through rare and one-off t-shirts. From Sonic Youth to Run DMC, the Sex Pistols to The Kinks, Talking Heads to The Cure, and, of course, Van F****** Halen, the tees in Cesar Padilla’s 200-plus piece collection are impressive, to say the least. Padilla, owner of downtown NYC vintage store Cherry and the book’s editor, has been working on the collection since he was a kid. Here, he shares the best of the bunch –glorious sweat stains and all – alongside musings of luminaries of the decades, like fashion designer Betsey Johnson and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, as well as younger fans including singer/songwriter Will Oldham.

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As singer/poet/writer/all-around-agitator Lydia Lunch describes in the book’s introduction, for decades, t-shirts have acted as an “iconic symbol of defiance.” The DIY stylings of many of Padilla’s tees reinforce this sentiment, as do insights from musicians and artists. Commenting on a spread of Sonic Youth shirts, for example, Thurston Moore writes: “A cool t-shirt has no rules, the more unique the better. I was doing solo sets on the 1994 Lollapalooza tour and decided to sell T-shirts that were limited and designed on the spot. I hit Targets and Wal-Marts and bought white Beefy-Ts and magic-markered art and words on them, signed and numbered them, and sold them for a couple of bucks more than I paid.”

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Describing the impetus behind his collection, Padilla concludes, “I grew up in Southern California and was raised by my two sisters. As a consequence, I was on the Sunset Strip at an early age, attending rock shows and being exposed to many things a ten-year-old wouldn’t normally have been exposed to. In 1988, I went traveling to South America. When I returned, my mother had thrown away my rock T-shirt collection, documenting this misspent California youth. Since then, I have been searching for the Holy Grail. This collection is clearly a direct result of such pillaging.”

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Ripped comes out 9 March 2010 and is available now for pre-order on