In all the craziness that is our modern culture of print t-shirts, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters. There are timeless designs which predate the trendy irony gracing cotton tees everywhere.
These are the designs your older siblings wore or maybe your parents. What’s crazy about them is, you’d wear them yourself and not feel dumb.
In reverse order, these are the icons of the T-shirt nation.
#15 Wolf T-shirt
Any t-shirt with a wolf on it counts for this one. Wolves on tees transcend any single demographic. In Native American culture, the wolf symbol stands right next to the bear and the eagle in popular animal iconography. This carries into the biker demographic, which borrows from the Native people. The movie The Hangover didn’t hurt the wolf t-shirt, as in the wolfpack, a fictional-and-totally-humorous gang referenced in the film.
#14 Frankie Says Relax
Referencing an 80’s tune by the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood, called Relax. The lyrics of the song go like this: Relax! Don’t do it, when you wanna go to it. Relax! Don’t do it, when you wanna come. Ergo, Frankie says “relax,” clearly. [Hint: It’s about s-e-x]
If you want to hear “who you gonna call?” all day long, wear this shirt in public. You’ll have the people of your neighborhood humming the theme song long after you pass. They’ll later wonder why they can’t get that darn song out of their heads? You can nod with you’re welcome at the end of your day, for a job well done. This design so impacted us, folks still call any red circle with a cross through it “the Ghostbusters thingy.”
#12 Vote for Pedro
This iconic shirt bears a simple message, found in a funny movie about being an awkward kid. Napoleon Dynamite wore this t-shirt in his self-titled movie, supporting his friend, Pedro, who runs for school president in the movie. During the 2016 election, faced with two options many did not prefer, even non-fans of the movie donned the Vote for Pedro shirt to demonstrate their frustration.
#11 Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon
The Wall may stand as the most iconic album for Pink Floyd, but Dark Side was the album design that captured the end of 20th-century rock and roll. The simple triangle bending a beam of white light into a spectrum broke free from the ‘70s, into the 80s and 90s. To this day it symbolizes rebellion and breakthrough artistry.
Few bands can hang their schoolboy hats on so many years of rocking their guts out for ya. Their payback? Legions of fans and non-fans wear t-shirts with the signature AC/DC emblem. Ask most of them whether they preferred Flick of the Switch over High Voltage and let the hijinks ensue.
#9 Che Guevara
You don’t have to be a rebel to support the communist, Guevara. One only has to have known someone cooler who wore it. That person wore it for the same reason. The people who wear Che often have no idea of the man’s history.
#8 Run DMC
Now, Peter Piper may have rocked peppers, as Run Rocked Rhymes, but this shirt never fell down or had a hard time. You have always been a king of rock when you donned your Run DMC t-shirt, especially when you wore it with Adidas, cause we never rock Fila. I know, I know… I be illin’.
The best thing about this shirt making the top ten is that the people behind the DARE program are happy about it too. What they always fail to realize is that kids never wore this shirt to support DARE, but as an ironic stab at the program. The DARE shirt did meta before meta was hip.
#6 Tuxedo Tee
Anywhere, anytime, you are ready to party in the tuxedo shirt. You’re also ready to attend church, hit the club, fall on your face, and puke in the toilets in the women’s room even if you don’t belong there. There have been many imitators, but there can be only one, tuxedo t-shirt.
#5 Hard Rock Cafe
What early wearers donned as bragging rights, the Hard Rock Cafe shirt, like “ooh, look at where I’ve been,” devolved into a meme, then irony, then back to cool. The Hard Rock Cafe brand has literally been around the globe. The key to understanding this shirt is knowing the person who wears it. Otherwise, you don’t know if that person is being ironic, serious, or too lazy to find another shirt.
Too many people wore this shirt in the 80s when the first reboot of the franchise came around. At the time, we had no idea how far the bat could fly, how dark his story could go. Then Batfleck happened. Like the Hard Rock Cafe shirt, you have to know the wearer to know what sort of message they mean to send wearing the bat emblem. Fan? Which Batman?
What many people don’t know is that the Superman concept precedes our modern blue and red superhero brand, the big S. George Bernard Shaw wrote Man and Superman in 1905, long before Christopher Reeves rocked on the red cape. Shaw’s concept, however, didn’t fly around the planet, but the history behind it is what’s cool about the big S.
#2 Rolling Stones Lick
Only more popular than AC/DC, because their sound was more marketable or more marketed (depending on who you ask), the Stones picked up where the Beatles left off. They may have had different fans, but the dedication of their fans paralleled. That said, the Beatle’s never came up with such a sassy album cover as the big lick.
#1 I ♥ N.Y.
Many imposters have popped up, from cities over the world trying to rub a little charm off the iconic symbol of New York pride. None can hold a candle to the original. Heck, you don’t even have to know New York to say you love it. It’s more about saying, I know an icon when I see one. The only t-shirt more iconic than the I ♥ NY tee is a white t-shirt.