We’re not sure if there is a foolproof formula for creating the kind of iconic t-shirt that’s going to be relevant for several decades. Lindon Leader was quoted saying “I strive for two things in design: simplicity and clarity. Great design is borne of those two things” and the same can certainly be said for this list of what we think are possibly the 10 most iconic t-shirts ever.
Conceived in 1977 by graphic designer Milton Glaser in a taxi the image was commissioned by the Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Department of Commerce and formed the basis of an advertising campaign to promote tourism to the city. It’s pop art inspired style became an instant hit and the logo has been appropriate by a wide range of cities, organisations and brands.
This slogan originally formed part of a series of morale boosting posters designed in 1939 with the outbreak of WWII. The Keep Calm poster was meant to be issued once England invaded Germany however since this never actually happened most of the printed posters ended up on the scrap heap once the war finally ended in 1945. They were discovered again almost 60 years later and have since adorned everything imaginable from gifts and stationary to of course t-shirts.
Described as one of the best tag lines the 20th Century it was pitched to Nike by Dan Wieden in 1988. In a recent interview when asked about the origin of the phrase Wieden admitted that it was inspired by the words “let’s do it” which were uttered by convicted Utah killer Gary Gilmore as he faced a firing squad.
This t-shirt references the classic cult film Napoleon Dynamite which was released in 2004. Pedro was an unassuming Mexican teen running for high school president and distributed the t-shirts as part of his campaign. The slogan design uses the classic weighted serif typeface Cooper Black.
This iconic image which is as widely used as a symbol of opposition to capitalist systems as it is in irony was created by Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick in 1968 and was based on a photograph by Alberto Korda. He initially released the image on a copyright free basis intending for it to be used by revolutionary groups around the world however has since handed over all rights to the Guevara family after seeing the “crass and commercialised” way in which it has been used.
Created by British graphic designer Storm Elvin Thorgerson and illustrated by George Hardie it’s been described as one of the greatest album covers of all time and is synonymous with the identity of the band.
This one of several slogan t-shirts made by British fashion designer Katherine E. Hamnet and gained viral popularity when the band Wham! wore them in the video for their hit song ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’. According to Hamnet the slogan was meant to be directed at drug abuse and suicide.
No one quite knows the origin of this one however it has been suggested that it was first heard in the 1970 American satirical war film M*A*S*H when the character Colonel Blake says “Captain Pierce went to Japan and all he got me was this lousy t-shirt”.
Probably one of the most imitated logos of all time it was commissioned by Ashley Newton who at the time was the head of A&R at Island Records and executed by their in-house graphic design team. Set in the Franklin Gothic typeface she chose it because it was “tough and forthright without being old fashioned or faddish”.
No one quite knows where this one originated although reports suggest that it’s a product of the 1970’s, think of it as an early meme and one of the most widely reproduced slogan t-shirts of all time.