In 1996, The Smashing Pumpkins embarked on an extended world tour in support of the album Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. Billy Corgan’s iconic look during this period was a newly shaved head, silver pants and a longsleeve black shirt with the word “ZERO” printed on it. Corgan was rarely spotted on stage without the black Zero shirt in this era.
The shirt that he wore during that period was originally made by a skate company called Zero Skateboards. The shirts stopped being produced and once Billy sported the iconic shirt they became quite rare.
If you ever wondered what the “ZERO” shirt stood for below you will find some theories behind it…..
1. Cross-promotion since they had a song called “Zero” on the album which included the lyric…
I’m your lover, I’m your zero
2. He wore that “ZERO” shirt because he looked at himself as a superhero and that was his trademark shirt. or the more drawn out superhero theory…
3. “Zero” was/is sort of a “super-hero” Billy Corgan created that is loosely based around himself. The concept is a bit tongue-in-cheek though as he had rather low self-esteem for a number of years and it was kind of like his way of juxtaposing this public image everyone had of him (messianic rockstar) with what was “actually” there. This same kind of irony can be found in the lyrics to “Today” (the song sounds happy and the chorus even says “Today is the greatest day” but it’s actually about suicide and hopelessness) and even in “Here Is No Why“, a song Billy wrote about himself.
Billy corroborated this idea in 2000 when the Machina mystery was revealed. The main character in the Machina story was named” Zero” and he had a band called the Machines of God.
The Pumpkins eventually bought the rights to the shirt and made their own and they are still on sale today. Billy brought it back and wore an inverted version of the shirt (white material with black lettering/star) on the last Smashing Pumpkins Tour. Billy put one of his original Zero shirts up for auction on eBay for Japan earthquake relief and it sold for $6,547.41.
Here is the e-bay description: This is one of only 4 original hand made shirts, designed by Billy Corgan and put together in 1995 for the release and tour of the nine-times-platinum record Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. This “ZERO” shirt comes with a certificate of authenticity signed by Billy Corgan himself. Worn by Billy for some of the band’s best known appearances on stage, television, and for photo shoots, etc., this shirt is one of the most recognizable pieces of the band’s iconic history.