Welcome to the Next Generation of Graphic T-Shirts

Are guilty pleasures and vices kind of the same thing? Mine are graphic T-shirts and graphic T-shirts, respectively. It’s a good time to have stock in this particular ticker symbol, because I’d argue we’re transitioning into a golden age of graphic tees.

In all the corners of the internet that I’ve recently loitered, everything with one head-shaped opening and two arm-width holes looks like homemade concert merch to me, in a good way. Some recent developments in the T-shirt world have captivated me as a spectator and a consumer, including but not limited to: the rapid ascension of Online Ceramics, a studio that designs and then tie-dyes intricate T-shirts reminiscent of (but aiming to transcend) the Grateful Dead aesthetic; the discontinuation of Shameless Enterprises’ cult favorite “Gnocchi” shirt despite its wild popularity; and the acutely engaged client-base of the Trashboy tee, which celebrates a California-based toddler whose sun rises and sets with his local sanitation departments and their entrancing vehicles.

I’m always fascinated by how creative minds tackle this particular art form — an item so quotidian, so everyday, and yet entirely customizable and ripe for the re-envisioning. The ones I love the most quip and crack a joke, or announce the name of my favorite director, or plainly state that I think typography is king. Below are ten of my favorite finds that I thought might pique your interest, too. 

1. The Ones That Transform You Into A Walking Kid’s Menu, $25

Katie Kimmel’s t-shirts may make you salivate. Kimmel heat-presses something for everyone, whether you’ve got a palate attuned to the taste of linguini and clams, or chicken parm and lava cake, or latkes and applesauce. My unsolicited advice? Get “Seafood Tower” for your tall friend. Sub out your office sweater for one of her wares and sit brooding at your desk in a sweatshirt that asserts “BUNDT CAKE.” Order a whole flight of tees as a spunky alternative to those customized tank tops at a bachelorette party. Name your firstborn Steak Diane.

2. The One With Some Manners, $58

In lieu of a thank you note, you could just send your hostess a Gossamer x VEDA tee, which melds the icons of New York’s plastic bags and its “Say It With Flowers” florist wrap into one acid green composition. All proceeds go to the Women’s Prison Association, the nation’s first organization dedicated solely to working with criminal justice-involved women and their families.

3. The One That Goes To Great Lengths To Find The Director’s Cut, $26.44

Girls On Tops is a small operation in the business of printing statement tees. These statements include the following: Tilda Swinton! Ava Duvernay! Sigourney Weaver! Paraphrasing the shop’s origin story wouldn’t do it justice, so you can read it right here (it involves collecting an iconic Talking Heads: 77 shirt and an ambition to treat women in film more like rock stars). I bought the Greta Gerwig tee and gleefully await the day I pass the great G.G. on the street while I have it on. Second best would be to cross paths with Timothée Chalamet while we both have it on. It’s worth noting that this T-shirt ranks high on the soft scale.

4. The One That’s So Simple, It Just Might Work, $18

If you’ve ever watched Elle Fanning fan herself, or heard Tom Waits’ dulcet tones narrate A Brief History of John Baldessari, or seen that really good Harry’s commercial, you’ve been privy to a Supermarché production. Well, this is the production company’s shirt. I think it’s going to be a really nice shade of red on you, and what term would you rather have embroidered above your shirt pocket than the French word for supermarket? ¡Immédiatement chic!

5. The One I Copied from Imani, $59

I’m not sure it’d make any difference to me if the artist known as Gelcream reviewed Schleich animal figurines instead of beauty products — I am rapt by the modernness of her sensibility, photographically and typographically. When Imani came to work wearing her “Good Times” tee, I knew I’d have to add the butter-colored tee to my collection in honor of all of its considered details. The interior tag alone is museum quality.

6. The One I Copied from Louisiana, $31.85

Louisiana turned me onto Printed Goods and I’ve since acquired the de Chirico and the Hockney shirts. If those two guys plus Matisse don’t make you dance, you may be pleased to hear that PG also makes a “Jazz Series” with graphics of John Coltrane and Miles Davis in action. On a formal level, the tees skew a bit starchy but hold their shape in the good kind of way.

7. The One I Copied From Emma, $40

Who can resist the sherbet swirl of Emma’s tie-dyed SZA long-sleeve? This shirt will only permit wearing your heart on both sleeves. An honorable mention goes to this SiR number that has sleeves like long strips of light-leaked film.

7. The One I Copied from Juliana, Which Supports Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, $100

Juliana Salazar deemed this one wearable to a holiday party, and I can’t argue with that testimonial. Contemporary artist Jenny Holzer and Virgil Abloh collaborated on this adaptation of one of Holzer’s well-known truisms, emblazoned across this tee in a limited edition. All net gains from T-shirt sales are donated to Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, and boy does the soft-o-meter spike when your fingertips graze this fabric!

8. The Ones That Benefit the City of New York, $40

If you’re a John James Audubon junkie, or just (constantly) wondering, how come we never see baby pigeons in pigeon-rich New York?, like I am, these may be right up your ornithological alley: Only NY tees that spotlight the local sparrow and starling respectively. Pairs well with binoculars.

9. The One That Knows There Are Two Kinds of People In The World, Those Who Have Read Jane Eyre and Those Who Haven’t, $22

I read Less by Andrew Sean Greer and Draft No. 4 by John McPhee this past August and savored them even more than regular old paperbacks, because cracking the pages open to my bookmark reminded me of when I picked them out at a Cobble Hill paradise called Books Are Magic. Riffing off of the seemingly ubiquitous New York trope “THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOUHAVEANICEDAY,” this mantra-like repetition of the bookstore’s name encourages meditative behavior. Wear it with the confidence of a person who understands the Dewey Decimal system.

10. The Ones That Wonder What Jared and Ivanka Do All Day, $24.99

Yes, another plain white t-shirt with kerned black text. Before you start throwing tomatoes at me, make sure they’re heirloom, and consider the impact of wearing one of the following T-shirts to a party of people you don’t know: “Fake German Heiress.” “Most Elusive Royal Family Member.” “I Don’t Know What The Cut Is.” These snarky tees do all the ice breaking for you, and if that doesn’t score major points in the cost-per-wear department, I don’t know what does. 

Curious to hear about your finds in the graphic tee marketplace, though I can’t promise I won’t copy you once you spill the beans.

Homepage photo of Katie Kimmel tees via Lou & Grey. Feature image via Gelcream

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