Graphic Tees, Please

Flat-lay of graphic

Everybody’s wardrobe must-have is having a moment. Once meant to be hidden from view, the tee is now in plain sight everywhere. Graphic tees quite literally announce their presence. From modest undergarment to pillar of personal style, the graphic tee has become a wardrobe favorite.


Style T-Shirts for Work, Weekend & Beyond

What’s wonderful about graphic tees? They’re versatile, affordable and oh-so collectible. Pick a few that feature your favorite movies, bands and gotta-flaunt-’em mottos.

Get the 4-1-1 on graphic tees, then read on for details about this YouTube video
(with close captions), plus more outfit inspiration.

When workmen in the 19th century cut their “union suits”—a kind of button-down onesie—in half, tucking the top half into the bottom, the modern tee was born. The Cooper Underwear Company went on to sell the tops as “bachelor undershirts” — no buttons meant nothing to sew. By 1913, tees had become the “cotton undervests” of US uniforms. Still, the tee remained tucked away until WWII, when members of the military were issued T-shirts featuring the names of their branches or training programs. Then, a Life Magazine cover displayed Corporal Alexander Le Gerda wearing this soldier’s essential: the graphic tee had arrived.

An Instant Classic

Cue Marlon Brando, who wore a crewneck tee in nearly every scene of the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire. Brando’s simple tee made a statement. Worn plainly, the used-to-be undergarment symbolized youthful rebellion and rabble-rousing toughness. The printing potential of the tee was soon realized; its easy comfort made it kind of wearable cotton canvas. The Miami company Tropix Togs acquired the exclusive rights from Disney to print Mickey Mouse and his friends onto tees. An advertising superstar, the graphic tee went from underwear to everywhere. The 1959 invention of Plastisol ink granted design freedom. By the 60s, screen-printed graphics were common. Boys’ tees featured action heroes and sports teams, and the French film “Breathless” featured a pixied Jean Seburg in a New York Herald Tribune tee. Paired with pencil pants and flats, the tee epitomized a new kind of chic.

Counterculture to A Material World

After its dazzling Hollywood debut and mainstream success, the graphic tee began sporting political statements and slogans. The 1960s and ‘70s also saw the birth of the band tee. What began as a promotional tool and extra income source for bands became a concert-goers rite of passage. Tees carried the specially-lettered names and now-iconic logos of bands like the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd. Bands like Metallica and Nirvana followed suit in the 80s and 90s, and their shirts are now coveted vintage apparel.  The era of Madonna and consumerism brought a new kind of graphic tee: the logo tee. Brands like Nike, Adidas, Guess? and Calvin Klein created logo tees, shaping their brand images and the style vibes of their wearers. There was no wondering where your clothes came from when the tee said it for you.

Back to Basics

Graphic tees came back from a slight early 21st century lull in the form of a ringer T-shirt, a slogan, and a character named Napoleon Dynamite. The quirkiness of the Vote for Pedro tee was quick to resonate in the Internet Age. Graphic tees hit the runways. From Celine to Chanel, luxury fashion houses were producing sleek graphic tees season after season. Streetwear brands like OBEY and Supreme made splashes with bold graphics and capsule collections. Today, the graphic tee is once again ubiquitous. It’s a thing of both the past and present., simultaneously individual and equal. The tee is a maker of infinite statements, but always a simple T-shaped canvas.

READY…SET…STYLE

Whether you’re dressing for date night, need to add a little something extra to your outfit, or you find yourself thinking I have nothing to wear, turn to your graphic tee.

Five graphic tees displayed on a rolling hanger

The only limit to graphic tee styling is your imagination!

The T(ee) Gets an A with a smart look inspired by classic prep-school style

  • Top: Graphic tee over a button-up
  • Bottoms: Plaid pants OR dark-wash skinny jeans 
  • Shoes: Leather flats OR mules 
  • Accessories: Trench coat; headband or bold barrette

The Tee Goes On the Town… with an edge 

  • Top: Rolled-sleeve graphic tee (band, movie or retro television motif)
  • Bottom: Faux leather leggings, black jeans OR a sequin miniskirt 
  • Shoes: Platform booties
  • Accessories: Faux fur OR leather jacket; chain-strap crossbody bag

Fes-Tee-Val Season embraces the sunny music fest scene with a touch of wild West 

  • Top: Knotted-hem graphic tee
  • Bottoms: Distressed denim shorts
  • Shoes: Cowboy boots OR white booties
  • Accessories: Round-lens sunglasses; studded belt; tiny backpack or crochet tote

The Tee Attends Tea in a classic ladylike outfit with a modern twist 

  • Top: Tucked-in graphic tee 
  • Bottoms: Tulle OR accordion-pleat midi skirt 
  • Shoes: Pastel pumps OR pointy-toe flats
  • Accessories: Sparkly statement earrings; strand of beads or pearls; playful clutch purse

The Tee Works Overtime in workplace looks that pack personality with polish 

  • Top: Tucked-in graphic tee   
  • Bottoms: Smart slim-fit or pencil-leg slacks   
  • Shoes: Chic pumps   
  • Accessories: Sleek watch or stacked bracelets

TeeGIF — the graphic tee covers your weekend from brunch to the ball game

  • Top: Knotted-hem tee 
  • Bottoms: Distressed boyfriend jeans 
  • Shoes: Smart mules OR platform sneaker 
  • Accessories: Sunglasses; scarf