Graphic tshirts have gotten a bad rap, not undeserved. Since the heyday of Christian Audigier’s GTL Vegas bedazzled tattoo aesthetic and the proliferation of artificially burnt-out, faux vintage tees, good taste has stuck to plain tees, maybe with a pocket. But if you can find prints you like, it’s worth having a few printed shirts in your drawer–other than looking interesting, they can express your affinity for art, design, or, like, gardening.
A few ground rules, though: a graphic tshirt should not be only a brand logo; a graphic tshirt should ideally cost <$30, and should not cost more than $100 (sorry, $300 Che shirt); a graphic tshirt should not be worn purely ironically (i.e., don’t buy this tshirt unless you are genuinely surprised about how you grew up to be a super sexy chicken lady).
Eight graphic tshirts I’d buy right now:
- Uniqlo UT Sol Lewitt shirt–Uniqlo is maybe the best source of well-priced shirts with consistently interesting designs, especially through heir SPRZNY series. This shirt features artist Sol Lewitt’s work–bold and sort of inscrutable, both categories I look for in a print. Plus it’s $10.
- Uniqlo UT Jason Polan shirt–artist Jason Polan’s work sort of straddles representative and abstract. This shirt’s print of liquid containers (also a helicopter?) with their designers’ names is great–each piece looks like the thing it represents but is in no way realistic.
- Jeremy Dean’s “Discover the Wonders of” shirts–these are not technically available right now, but they’ve been some of my favorites for years, combining the iconography of the greatest hardcore and greatest live band of all time. Follow Dean’s Instagram to find out when they’re for sale. I like Dean’s description of the perfect tshirt: “You need to put it on your body and not feel stupid.”
- Patagonia flying fish shirt–This is, essentially, a logo, but it’s vague enough that it passes my test. It’s also a Geoff McFetridge design, and McFetridge’s graphic style is one of my favorites. Check out his work.
- Engineered Garments triangle printed shirt–I can’t help but toss an Engineered Garments design here. I love that they print on pocket tshirts with no regard for the pocket; it’s a DIY vibe I appreciate. These shirts are also printed on custom shirts, not mass-market blanks, so they have an interesting, criss-cross ribbed collar, and a polo-shirt-style hem.
- Know Wave Skate Wise shirt–Long sleeve tshirts are hit or miss–if I need long sleeves, why wear a thin jersey shirt?–but I like this 80s-skate-referencing design from radio (podcast?) network Know-Wave, which hosts the defunct Skate Wise skateboard chat show as well and a ton of other oddball talk and music shows, including occasional appearances by Mordechai Rubinstein of Mister Mort.
- Ebbets Field Flannels stadium diagram shirts–I’m not the biggest fan of shirts with faux vintage graphics, but I like Ebbetts’ take (as I usually do)–they stock several shirts like this one of Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, sort of subtle nods to a city’s history and teams without wearing a logo.
- Niche seed packet shirts–These awesome shirts printed front and back with botanical seed packet drawings are great; I like the big, bold, colorful prints. I also like flowers. These are a few seasons old but still apparently available at Alpha Shadows.