This mid-90s t-shirt puzzled me for a bit: it looked like a biker gang shirt. But what was the Big Red Machine? Never heard of it.
Well, I had. Just not under that name.
Tee shirts bearing the words “Big Red Machine” or “81” are published by chapters of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club to raise money for chapter operations. “Big Red Machine” is an alternate name for the Hells Angels, whose colors are red-on-white. “81” stands for H and A, the eighth and first letter of the alphabet respectively.
The Angels will not sell you a t-shirt with the actual words “Hells Angels” on it, or the club’s death’s head logo. Nor do they approve of anyone else selling such clothing. Because by club bylaws, only initiated members of the Angels can wear clothing bearing the club name and the club’s death’s head.
While this is by no means civil law, the Hells Angels have a well-documented reputation that gives pause to many. It is difficult to find any shirt like that on the open market. And if you do, you should think twice about buying it. Perhaps three times.
Ray “Spawn Till You Die” Troll, the noted Alaskan fish artist and t-shirt publisher, at one time designed and printed a t-shirt with the legend “Hell’s Anglers” and a drawing of an angry leather-clad gentleman riding a Harley while casting with a fishing rod. Not long after, some of Troll’s distributors in the lower 48 passed him the word that Hells Angels had complained about the shirts. Troll took the shirt out of distribution; the ones already sold became collector’s item.
The words “Known Associate” often appear somewhere on the tee as well: police jargon for someone who’s known to hang out with criminals.
The chapter support shirts shown here are pretty typical; some get way more extreme.
In conclusion, I’ll say what I always say about message-bearing t-shirts: when you put on the tee, you become the message. You are supporting the principes of the Hells Angels, screaming skulls and all. The Angels wouldn’t mind that at all. But who else might?
Be advised. The t-shirt aisle in the thrift shop is sometimes a minefield.
One final note: the club’s name is properly written “Hells Angels,” without the possessive apostrophe.” The Hells Angels FAQ entry about the missing apostrophe simply says, “You may miss it. We don’t.”