The Most Famous Statement T-Shirts


The statement tee has always been around seems like, and in fact they’re making a huge comeback this fall.  Everyone’s got one, but do you know how long it’s been since the first words were printed out on a shirt? They were replaced by iconic logos for a while before the words came back in vogue, as in “Frankie Says Relax”.

The Birth of the Printed T-shirt

LIfe Magazine Cover 1942 first words on a tee

The existence of the t-shirt dates way back to the 1890s as an undergarment.  However it was not until 1942 that t-shirts became appropriate to wear on their own and even get something to say on them.  This Air Corps Gunnery School t-shirt featured on the cover of LIFE magazine of July 13, 1942, is believed by many to be the first printed t-shirt ever worn publicly.

2.  Late 40’s to 50’s: The Mickey Mouse Craze

Mickey Mouse Shirt

In the late 1940’s and the beginning of 1950’s, following the popularity of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse character, Sam Kantor founded Tropix Togs, a Miami-based t-shirt company which held the sole license to produce Mickey Mouse t-shirts.  The playfulness of the pattern knew no age barriers and quickly become a classic ‘statement’ t-shirt to the present day.

3.  The 60’s: Che Takes The Stage

Che guevara tee

“Revolution” is the keyword and although some see Che Guevara as a ruthless totalitarian, some others see him as a popular culture icon.  First used by Fidel Castro in 1967, the stylized image of Che Guevara represented by a facial caricature based on Alberto Korda’s famous 1960 photograph entitled Guerrillero Heroico became so popular the image is not only found on t-shirts, but also on major brand products until today.  In some parts of the world, the image -as well as Che’s name are still causing a ton of controversy, however Che has become a Hollywood darling as the biggest stars are often seen wearing Che t-shirts.  Che has become a generic symbol of the underdog, the idealist, the iconoclast, or the man willing to die for a cause.  That’s a clear statement even without saying a word.

4.  The 70’s:  Be Happy!

Happy Face T-shirt

Popularized in the early 1970s by Bernard and Murray Spain, the happy face took the world by storm since its first appearance -mostly in t-shirts and coffee mugs.  Although the most identifiable color is bright yellow, the happy face has also been used on many different colors and mediums. In 1971, French journalist Franklin Loufrani created “Smiley World” to sell and license the happy face image in the United Kingdom and Europe. Loufrani claims to have created the icon in 1971 to highlight good news in newspaper articles, and does not acknowledge priority of other designers.  Because of its close association with good news and happiness, the happy face is often used in humanitarian activities. Although in the 80’s, the icon was used to represent Ecstasy pills and associated by some as a drug-related symbol.  The statement “Have a Nice Day!” soon followed, and in modern times, this symbol has evolved into something we see everyday on the internet: the emoticon or simply “smileys”.

5.  Still In The 70’s: Rolling Stones Tee

Rolling Stones Tee

Dubbed the world’s most popular rock band of the seventies, the famed Rolling Stones t-shirt became a hit among its fans and quickly seen as the rebel-icon of the decade.  Taken from band frontman Mick Jagger’s signature tongue-out gesture, the tongue symbol spread like an epidemic around the world and much like the Che t-shirt has become a trans-generation icon.

6. The Late 70’s: I (Heart) NY T-Shirt

I Heart NY tee

This is one of the boldest, yet the simplest statement t-shirt of all times.  The I Love New York Logo was created by Milton Glaser in 1977, using the American Typewriter font with a heart symbol between “I” and “NY”.  It was created to promote the state of New York in a short tourism campaign, and Glaser worked pro-bono (read: for free) for this project.  Who knew the logo would withstand the test of time and become one of the most recognizable logos in the world?  The seemingly ‘touristy’ logo gained its significance after the 9/11 tragedy as a token of love for the city by the people around the world.  The logo is also famously copied and inspired tons of causes and statements.

7.  The 80’s: Frankie Says… T-Shirt

Frankie Says Relax tee

To those who grew up in the early eighties, having this Frankie Says t-shirt series was compulsory when it came to being in the ‘in’ crowd.  The Frankie Says t-shirt series were originally designed by Paul Morley, a British journalist-turned-music-producer for ZTT Records which is famously known for propelling pop group “Frankie Goes To Hollywood” that’s known for its song: “Relax”.  The t-shirt series was created to promote the group when it emerged in 1983.  The song might fade away, but the fame of the tees is often used as a reference of the eighties era, even today.  And in promotional t-shirt history, this is one of the most successful.

8.  Still In The 80’s: Mr. Men and Little Miss T-Shirt

Little Miss Tee

Created by Roger Hargreaves in 1971, a series of children’s books titled Mr. Men was very popular and are now making a huge comeback.  Ten years after Mr. Men, Roger Hargreaves created a new set of characters  called Little Miss.  After Hargreaves passed away in 1988, his son, Adam Hargreaves began writing and illustrating new stories about Mr. Men and Little Miss characters, adding 10 new characters.  Teenagers from the seventies and eighties era took the characters’ names and identified themselves with each they think suitable for who they are.  In the mid 2000’s, the designs made a comeback and it’s gained a bigger fan base than ever.

9.  The Mysterious I’m With Stupid Tee

Im With Stupid Tee

It’s still quite unclear who started this trend, but the “I’m With Stupid” t-shirt have been widely popular for some time now.  Some say this came from the IT community (read: self-proclaimed “geeks”) but some also say the slogan and the arrow came from men’s stupidity when it comes to sex -boldly said with arrow pointing down.  Wherever this came from, the t-shirt can be considered a modern classic.

10.  The Millenium’s Team Jolie – Team Aniston Tee

Team Jolie Team Aniston

Born from the scandalous breakup of actress Jennifer Aniston and actor Brad Pitt, the Team Aniston t-shirt appeared as Jennifer’s fans’ form of support for the Hollywood sweetheart.  The alleged love triangle between Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie created quite a stir in Tinseltown and as the number of “Team Aniston” t-shirt wearer grew, another “team” supporting Angelina Jolie appeared as “Team Jolie”.  Although seemingly bearing an understated statement, both t-shirts have grown widely popular and worn not only by fans, but also by celebrities such as Paris and Nicky Hilton.

So which ones do you like?  The old classic…

Public Library Classic Mickey Tee

Public Library Classic Mickey Tee

…the new statement tee…

Unity Tee One People Project

Unity T-shirt by One People Project

…or the ‘jazzed-up’ statement tee?

Fuck Love Triumvir Tee

Fuck Love t-shirt by Triumvir

Make yourself heard, wear your statement today!


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