From businessmen to surfers, repair men to servers, there are countless looks and ways to dress for today’s man. But no matter who you are or what you do, there’s one article of clothing found in every man’s closet — the T-shirt.
Second perhaps only to a pair of jeans, the basic tee is a staple of American style. We all have our favorites that stay folded until a night out on the town, and the everyday tees that never see the inside of a closet, but instead commute between our bodies and the floor.
As ubiquitous as the t-shirt is, everyone wants one that’s original, unique, eye-catching. For this, you’ll need to look past the clickbait ads and really do some digging. Ahead, we found highlight some of the best t-Shirt brands for men. We also spoke with Jared Ingold, the founder behind graphic tee brand Vardagen, to get some tips on how to source a true t-shirt original.
The Best Graphic T-Shirt Brands for Men
Founding by punk polymath Kyle Ng, this global collective of artists and designers focuses its graphic tee designs on the disruptive. Their references to post punk, underground comics, skateboarding, and the spiritual mayhem of the subculture are, oddly enough, an instant bonding agent. Putting one on is like throwing up a Bat Signal for like-minded subversives who dig the same obscure shit you do.
Release your inner outlaw with the raw grit of Bandit Brand’s tee collection. These designer tees sport the kind of terse sentence fragments that Clint Eastwood murmurs in his sleep, rendered in typefaces hard enough to give punks a bloody nose. Despite their undeniable gritty edge, these tees feel whisper-soft against your skin. If you’re going to wake up on a cold floor with a banging hangover and your fist clutching the neck of a whiskey bottle, this is the tee to do it in.
6 Dollar Shirts
Perfect for those nights when you’ve reached your limit and your friends have sent you home in a cab, 6 Dollar Shirts offers a slew of snarky slogans and pop culture references to keep you chuckling at the inside jokes until you pass out. While the goofy cartoons and meta commentaries are top-notch, our personal pick would be the “official” tees of imaginary organizations from iconic 90s film and TV (e.g., Callahan Auto Parts, Vandelay Industries, Little Lebowski Urban Achievers). Did we mention they’re only $6 each? Go ahead, fill up that cart.
This growing catalog of sartorial advocacy only gets better with time. The Parks Project collection of tees now features 50 different national parks, landmarks, and natural wonders, rendered in reverentially minimalist graphics. As if you needed another reason to overspend your t-shirt budget, every purchase helps fund park conservancies, camp scholarships, and other outdoor preservation initiatives around the country.
Old School Tees
If you’ve spent your adult life pining for the box of your dad’s college memorabilia that your mom dropped off at the Salvation Army, good news. Old School Tees has brought the 70s back with a vengeance. Scan your favorite throwback TV shows, pay homage to the glory days of your childhood sports heroes, or show your lifetime support for your favorite beer. And if you’re looking for an obscure band shirt, Old School Tees has everyone from Mott the Hoople to Miles Davis, from Stevie Ray Vaughn to Snoop Dogg.
With their rigorously creative ethos and their hyper-local roots, Vardagen makes the kind of shirt that singles you out in a crowd. We love them for their hand-drawn designs, featuring an aesthetic that is equal parts Zapp Comics and Sailor Jerry, as well as for their fine-art approach to screen printing and of course the sinfully soft fabric blend that serves as their canvas. Their ever-changing catalogue features a number of limited-edition collections — our favorite of the moment has to be the PNDMC line, which offers a tribute to our cultural moment that is equal parts snarky and solemn.
How to Source a True T-Shirt Original
Don’t overthink it
Jared says he’s frequently asked by new customers, “I like this shirt…but what is it about?” However, a great graphic tee is like fine art: the statement it’s making is in the eye of the beholder. “Open up your mind a little bit,” Jared recommends. “Appreciate the design, the uniqueness, the colors, the thought put into it.”
So if you see a design you dig, don’t worry too much about what it means or how it might fit with the aesthetic you’ve decided for yourself. It’s just a shirt, after all. So lose the agenda and the plan for where this graphic fits into your personal brand. Take a risk, put it on, and see where it takes you.
Consider the source
While you’re better off not overthinking the art on the t-shirt itself, Jared recommends considering the bona fides of the brand you’re supporting. Where and how the shirt is made says as much about you as the way the shirt looks. “Who’s actually making this shirt? And why? What are their practices?”
They say clothes make the man, and the graphic tee is no exception in its ability to speak to your character. The quintessential graphic tee customer, says Jared, is by definition a unique individual. “They’re more on the creative side, they’re more prone to exploration (places, things, ideas), they’re in search of real interactions. They’re thoughtful about how they build their wardrobe, and prefer to make a little extra effort to support smaller businesses and independent artists.”
Seek out small collections
One of the coolest things about Vardagen and its companion brands is that they produce their shirts in small, limited-edition runs. “Our main thing is putting out little collections, or even single products, adding and taking away, always reworking what we’re putting out. It’s a stream of playing around with ideas, concepts, designs, colors, processes.” It helps that his team is constantly in creative mode, batting around ideas, unearthing old concepts from notebooks, and the occasional stumble upon past notions that have suddenly become relevant in the cultural conversation. With that kind of creative stream-of-consciousness running the show, it can’t help but come through loud and clear on the shirts.
Let it come to you
Jared says that the best finds come from just opening yourself to the possibility of discovery. (How very Abbot Kinney of him.) While corporate brands make sweeping decisions on each upcoming season’s concepts and color ways, usually months in advance, Jared and his team take a much more organic approach, hoping to meet customers right where they are. “We don’t want to tell people what to think; we want them to come in and just find what makes them say ‘Whoa.’ And then they get drawn into thinking about it more, and finding more to think about within our store.”
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