Resurgence of the Graphic T

When my mom was in high school, she had a minor crush on a guy named Duane, who had one serious flaw that kept that minor crush from being major: He wore stupid t-shirts – graphic T-shirts with messages written on them like “I’m with Stupid” and “Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost.” In the 1980s the graphic T was just bad taste in clothing. Thirty years later, it seems that it wasn’t so much that graphic Ts were a poor choice as it was that they just had not come into its own yet.

The graphic T has never gone away really. There has always been a place on every boardwalk across the country to buy a blank shirt on which you could pop one of a hundred different messages and then have your name gummed on the back. Add a wide-tooth comb in your back pocket and you’re ready to strut down the fairway. So how does something so blue collar find its way back to the limelight in your favorite mode stores like Rue 21 and Pac Sun?

Honestly, I don’t know – and I’ve been asking myself the same about legwarmers! If I had to pin the blame somewhere though, “Napoleon Dynamite” would be as good a place as any. Oh, and “Nacho Libre.” This genre of movie, to which new releases are still being added – see “Adventures of Power” – celebrates the nerdy and marginal in taste and has exalted them to an unprecedented  popularity. Let’s be real, what are the odds that you would have ever in your lifetime worn a shirt that says “Vote for Pedro” if not for Napoleon Dynamite?

It’s a magical process this cooling of nerdiness, and one that I like just fine. It’s actually gratifying to see nerdy simplicity get its moment in the limelight. Poor Duane – he was simply ahead of his time.

So the graphic T is full-blown fashion, and as a bonus, they make it cheap to be in style. You don’t have to blow $20 on a graphic T. Mr. Jackson will buy you 4 Ts on sale – what a bargain! The big question in my mind, however, is whether stocking up on graphic Ts in this bull market for them is going to pan out as a good investment. The Ts aren’t made to last forever – I’ve noted most of them are made of very lightweight cotton jersey that might hold up to a year’s regular wear and washing without springing a leak under the arm. But let’s say we pamper our Ts – put them on the gentle cycle and line dry them so the iron-on appliqués don’t crust over and start to peel. If we can make them last two, four or six years with this tender care, will their favor in fashion last as long? Because of the fact graphic Ts never really went away, I’m inclined to say that $20 spent on four Ts is a good investment. Sooner or later, the limelight will drift elsewhere, but those graphic Ts will still be good for working out, bumming around the house and, of course, wearing on the boardwalk and fairway.

As Christians, another thing we need to keep in mind when contemplating the graphic T is how graphic it is. Each T has a message – some lighthearted and carefree, some artistic, some disturbing, some inane. What are you expressing in your choice of graphic Ts? When people see the words and pictures on your shirts might they possibly think, “What a wholesome gal”? Or are your shirts literally a graphic tease? Be sure to put out a positive, encouraging message with your graphic Ts.

If you’re having trouble finding the right message at Rue 21, try Christian online retailers like, and, or secular retailers who have an inspirational section of graphic Ts in their catalog, like Choice Shirts.  Unfortunately, and in my opinion to the disgrace of these retailers, graphic Ts with a Christian message seem to only come at a premium. Expect to pay $12 on clearance to $18.99 for regularly priced shirts on these Web sites. On the flipside, expect a better quality jersey too. I do wish these Christian retailers would get competitive with their pricing, if only by offering a cheapo jersey with a B-grade graphic. Fact of the matter is that some of us have to shop by price.

Have fun with this easy-going, comfortable fashion trend, and to quote a graphic T, “Love, Joy, Peace” and graphic Ts to you!

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