Graphic Tees – Kathia Buendia-Pereira

The Graphic Tee – Kathia Buendia-Pereira

As we all know, graphic design is a visual form that is used to communicate. Throughout history, many of the iconic and well-known visuals have been something that could be plastered on a wall, hung over the side of the freeway, or viewed on a screen. I believe that a different form of communication should be included in the textbook because of its simple everyday purpose yet has an impactful history.

T-shirts themselves have been around since the 19th century and got their name after its shape resembling the letter T. T-shirts were mainly advertised as standard attire for the military as undergarments. Later, due to the impact of movies, A Streetcar Named Desire and Rebel Without a Cause, the plain white tee became the staple item for rebellion and ‘bad boy attire’ since it was seen as unruly to be wearing undergarments as regular clothing. We can thank Marlon Brando and James Dean for this 1950s revolution.

A Streetcar Named Desire Poster and Rebel Without a Cause
A Streetcar Named Desire Poster and Rebel Without a Cause

In 1942, an Air Corps Gunnery School tee became one of the first every printed shirt which appeared on the cover of Life Magazine. The use of the graphic t-shirt became popular in the 60s when new inks arrived that made the printing process simpler.  Around the 70s, graphic tees became a staple piece of clothing throughout the hippy movement. Graphics such as the yellow smiley face, Andy Warhols Marilyn Monroe, and many others that usually had statements towards sex and politics gave people wearable words.

Andy Warhol's Marylin Monroe Shirt
Andy Warhol’s Marylin Monroe Shirt

These graphic tees were made possible by the process of silk screening that has been around since ancient China. Stretching ink through a screen that has been photo exposed to reveal a negative image that is transferred onto fabric. Considered a slow process at the time, classes began teaching silk screening t-shirts in schools since the popularity and demand grew.

Self-expression and individuality are a practice that everyone takes part in especially when it comes to what we wear. Graphic Tees have been worn for many years and will most likely be worm for several more. The use of the graphic tee is still prominent in today’s culture especially when it’s sharing your favourite band, animal, statement, or art. Tees are an easy visual communication of who we are as individuals. The New York Times calls them “the medium for the message”.

Assortment of Band T-Shirts
An Assortment of Band T-Shirts

Overall, the graphic tee is a statement in itself and has been for many years and have reached many people. The addition of this visual form in the textbook would show students the history of an article that we are probably wearing at this moment.


Feldman, Jay. “When Did Graphic t-Shirts Become Popular.” When Did Graphic T-Shirts Become Popular,

Harris, Will. “History of the T-Shirt.” Real Thread, 2019,

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