Fashion Rant Friday: A Word on Graphic Tees


By Julia Block

Sometime between 2008 and 2010, everyone stumbled out of the ether and realized that all of us had been wearing the ugliest clothing item ever created: the graphic tee. The day I tossed out my god-awful, candy corn orange henley that loudly and too proudly announced to the world that I was a Hollister customer remains my greatest achievement. At long last, it appeared that the global community finally understood twelve word non sequiturs and medleys of uninspired logos were just an ersatz substitute for what we really needed, patterns and textures mainly.

And then, it happened. They were back in droves, packed tightly in circular clothing racks in stores with names similar to Shmorever Shwenty Shwone, Fafaya, or H&N. Every time I see the words “LA NY PARIS TOKYO LONDON” preposterously displayed on the torso of somebody who is discernibly not from those places, I cringe for humanity. Why must our standard be so low to allow such cruel and unusual punishment of the eyes?

The answer to this question is the same answer for all queries pertaining to contemporary fashion: Anna Wintour. Anna. Goddamn. Wintour. Yes, it’s true graphic tees existed before her, but this lady made them a staple. Back in the late eighties and early nineties, Wintour decided it was a good idea to pair the graphic tee with skirts and suits. Naturally, she was wrong. For the uninformed who disagree, feel free to look at all the male celebrities of the early aughts wearing graphic tees and sport coats. Does the world deserve an apology from Ms. Wintour? Yes, but one expects little from somebody who considers “style” to be wearing virtually the same outfit everyday.

But enough about her, let’s look at the item itself. What are graphic tees made of? They’re made of Plastisol ink. Now what exactly is Plastisol? It’s PVC! P! V! C! That’s the crap we use to make pipes and the rubber suit from American Horror Story. Last time I checked, I am neither a piece of plumbing nor am I an angry gay ghost. Not to mention, PVC is one of those harmful plastics that take forever to degrade and when they decompose it emits dioxin, a highly toxic byproduct. And while there has been some legislation to increase the sustainability of PVC, at the moment less than one percent of all PVC is recycled.

Are there exceptions to the downright ugliness that “only a mother could love” designs of graphic tees? Yes, yes, of course there are. I’m not so arrogant to assume your tumblr-artist-designed shirt is blasé. And yes, I do appreciate the humor of your vintage 1986 tee from Baltimore, Florida celebrating 110 years of US Independence. Still, the average graphic tee is 100% unnecessary. If I am ever so inclined to take a graphic tee off the clothing rack, before buying it I consider these two infallible rules:

  1. Would it look better on a hat? If yes, I buy the hat.
  2. Does it have a phrase or string of words on it that I could say aloud without the threat of eye-rolling? If no, then I will not buy the shirt.

In particular, rule number two is often ignored by retailers and shoppers alike. A great example of this unfortunate choice is the seven-hundred ten dollar graphic tee from Dior Spring 2017 that proclaims, “Everyone should be a feminist”. Really? Is this what feminism is missing: a t-shirt? I don’t think so, and frankly the fact that this exists is pretty offensive, in my opinion. Do fashion houses think we’re dumb enough to spend the scientific equivalent of a shit load of weed to prove our Emma Watson credentials? The worst part is only after public backlash did Dior announce it will be donating A PORTION of the proceeds to charity. No thanks, buddy.

So the next time you’re thinking of buying that mass-produced, five dollar tee shirt about how much you love naps and food maybe take the time to care a little more about yourself and don’t.


This is the first article of the recurring series, Fashion Rant Friday.