It’s no secret that CustomInk loves t-shirts. Especially custom t-shirts. We’ve always talked casually about the most iconic, the best, or most popular t-shirts of all time, but in light of the 100th birthday of the t-shirt, we decided to put our money where our mouths are and put it to a company vote. The result is a phantasmagorical stroll down memory lane through popular movies, rock ‘n’ roll, TV land, comics, college athletics, cultural movements, social statements, funky fads and so much more. We hope you enjoy and share with friends.
100. The Max
No restaurant saw more acid-wash jeans, crop tops, or charity dances than “the Max” on the teen TV hit “Saved By the Bell.” This is one of many t-shirts that became real-world iconic because of its fictional prominence in pop culture.
A mantra started in by the rapper Drake, YOLO (an acronym for “You Only Live Once”) was a nominee for 2012 Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society. It can now be seen on t-shirts sold by street vendors all over the country.
98. The Neon Tee
Pink, orange, yellow, and green! It’s the ’80s fashion trend that’s come back in style in a major way. Popular with runners and great for any group traveling to a populated area, a bright neon tee makes you & your group stand out clearly.
97. Coed Naked
Famous for turning any sport or activity into one you can do in the buff, these shirts and their slogans were popular amongst high school & college athletes in the ’80s and ’90s. Some were even involved in lawsuits by the ACLU in defense of free speech.
96. Austin 3:16
Austin 3:16 was created by the iconic WWF/WWE wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin after beating Jake “The Snake” Roberts in a historic match in 1996. Austin coined the phrase, mocking Roberts’ recital of John 3:16 before matches, saying the bible verse got him nowhere.
This streetwear brand got its start in 1980 by Shawn Stussy after he put his last name on t-shirts to promote his custom surfboards. Thirty-plus years later, the brand is still popular – just more mainstream and a tad less edgy.
Whether being used by the military on the battlefield, by hunters in the woods, or as part of a new trend on the fashion runway, the Camouflage t-shirt never seems to to go out of style.
93. Rainbow Brite
Isn’t she just adorable? A cartoon about psychedelic color kids, talking rainbow horses, and whatever Twink was. You don’t get much more ’80s than this. The t-shirt gained fame more from an ironic-teen movement than actual fandom.
While Metallica is certainly a popular band in its own right, it was one of America’s most-iconic doofuses who made this t-shirt truly iconic. Or as Butt-Head might say, “Nice shirt Beavis. Uh huh huh huh.”
91. Cookie Monster
C is for COOKIE, that’s good enough for me. T is for T-SHIRT, iconic it will be. Born in 1966, Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster has been craving carbs for 46 years, with no end in sight.
90. Don’t Mess With Texas
From anti-littering campaign to unofficial state motto, “Don’t Mess with Texas” is proof that a great slogan can take on a life of it’s own. Commisioned by the Texas Department of Transportation, over the next 28 years the saying grew to near cult status.
89. Big Dogs
Founded in 1983, the Big Dogs brand of clothing became really BIG in the early ’90s with the release of their racy slogan t-shirts. Their first slogan “Man, these puppies are BIG” says it all. Ruff, ruff.
88. Anarchy symbol
What do black cats, wooden shoes, and safety pins have in common? ANARCHY. An evolving message since the turn of the century, the symbol became popular stateside through early 1970′s punk rock.
87. Choose Life
Worn by Wham! in its “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” video, the design was an early foray into social messaging on t-shirts. Designed by Katharine Hamnett to fight back against drug abuse and suicide, this & other Hamnett designs fused social issues and fashion.
86. Woodstock Festival
Though originals of this classic are very rare, the Woodstock Festival t-shirt design remains etched in American minds, as it perfectly captures the spirit of the time: Peace, Love and Music.
A hugely popular wrestling contingent from 1996-2001, first in the WCW and then the WWF, the New World Order (nWo) was comprised of wrestlers such as Kevin Nash, Sting, Randy Savage, and “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan.
84. Mighty Mouse
Here he comes to save the day! Airing off and on from 1942 to 1987, this super-powered rodent fought everything from alley cats to animated Nazi’s. What a mouse. WHAT A MOUSE!
Whether for Federal Bureau of Investigation enthusiasts or Female Body Inspectors (yes, that is the other meaning), these shirts are sold ALL OVER the place. And bought by many a tourist.
82. Union Jack
The stripes of Great Britain gained popularity stateside via Brit bands such as The Sex Pistols and Def Leppard. Def Leppard’s Joe Eliot frequently donned the sleeveless tee in concert. The Union Jack shorts, however, did not catch on. And we can all be thankful for that.
81. Property of …
A classic case of function becomes fashion. USC printed “Property of USC” on their athletic t-shirts to prevent theft. Decades later, “Property of …” t-shirts are standard fare in most college bookstores, um, we mean websites.
Before finding meteoric fame during the 2008 Presidential Election, Shepard Fairey first became known as an iconic street artist. Originally a sticker campaign, his Obey Giant works blossomed into a full line of art and apparel.
79. Notre Dame
French in name, Irish in spirit, the University of Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish football team is legendary. Formed in 1887, the team was named Forbes most valuable college football contingent in 2007.
78. Punisher Skull
The ultimate antihero, The Punisher appeared for the first time in 1974 in The Amazing Spiderman comic #129. His black shirt with large white skull on the chest is so fierce, the original had bullets for teeth.
Starchild, The Demon, Space Ace, and Catman. KISS has sold over 100 million albums worldwide and legitimized rocking out in platform shoes and leather.
76. Garth’s Aerosmith Shirt
The awkward, soft-spoken member of the dynamic dweeb duo on Wayne’s World gave Aerosmith an extra injection of popularity with this tee. Though Garth’s was probably a bit more faded and stain-ridden.
75. Don’t Worry, Be Happy
“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was sung by Bobby McFerrin in September 1988, and became the first a cappella song to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
74. Brew Thru
An east-coast favorite from the Outer Banks, NC, this drive-thru beer store has sold over 4 million colorful shirts since they opened in 1977 — each year releasing a unique one. And yes, we just said “drive-thru beer store.”
73. Bart Simpson
Don’t have a cow man. It’s just your favorite spiky haired troublemaker (the one and only) Bart Simpson, whose cartoon shirts were owned by just about every eleven year old in the 1990s.
72. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Turtles on the halfshell, turtle power!” How can you not love four butt-kicking turtles named Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael?
71. Planet Hollywood
A themed restaurant chain backed by the Hollywood action elite? What could go wrong? Planet Hollywood opened in 1991 and while over 100 locations have closed, 9 are still operating by a theme park near you.
70. I Survived …
If you can eat it, ride it or visit it, chances are you can get an “I Survived …” t-shirt at the gift shop. This iconic design has spawned infinite incarnations for just about any experience that doesn’t kill you.
An icon in the ring, and an icon on our list, Hulk Hogan defined a segment of popular culture. Between 1983 and 2012 Hogan spearheaded an entire genre of entertainment, which spanned from TV to movies to apparel (mostly of the ripped variety).
68. Hello, Kitty!
Hello, Japan. Hello, 1976. Hello, 5 billion dollar media empire. It’s Hello Kitty! Over the past 37 years, the Hello Kitty! brand has gone global with t-shirts and apparel a huge part of its success.
67. Alvin’s A
Not only are Alvin & The Chipmunks the world’s most prolific rodent singing group, they’re also the longest living. Alvin’s “A” shirt takes center stage on our list… Sorry Simon and Theodore.
66. Transformers – Autobots Logo
There’s something to robots from outer space that can turn into cars and trucks. And this Autobot logo t-shirt shows just why. From cartoon series to billion dollar movie blockbuster, these “robots in disguise” rock.
65. We Can Do It!
Commissioned by Westinghouse Company, J. Howard Miller created a series of posters to help boost morale during WWII. Commonly conflated with Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post cover featuring Rosie the Riveter, both have become iconic images for WWII and women’s rights.
64. Led Zeppelin
Other than the Beatles, no rock band has made fans more ga ga than Led Zeppelin. The band’s logo for their Swan Song record label became just as iconic as frontman Robert Plant’s wails and lead guitarist Jimmy Page’s rhythmic riffs.
63. Lennon’s New York City
This shirt was bought from a street vendor for $5 shortly before the photoshoot of John Lennon that made it famous. Bob Gruen, the photographer wanted Lennon to show what being a New Yorker meant to him. Lennon then crossed his arms & said the pose was “his street stance.”
62. John Deere
The gold standard in tractors and farm equipment, John Deere has made the colors green & yellow their own with their iconic logo. Pair it with a shirt or a hat and boom, now everyone likes farming.
61. Jesus is My Homeboy
Inspiration for fashion photographer David LaChapelle’s Last Supper art exhibit, the Jesus is my Homeboy’s shirt is quite captivating. While LaChapelle is known for making the shirt famous, Van Zan Frater vows he is the shirt’s original creator.
60. Green Lantern
“In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power, Green Lantern’s light!!!” -The Green Lantern Oath
59. French Connection United Kingdom (fcuk)
A global fashion retailer based in London, French Connection knew it hit marketing gold when they added the letters “UK” for the United Kingdom to the company letters “FC”. We know it’s controversial, but it sure is eye-catching.
58. Yo! MTV Raps
Remember when MTV had shows about music? “Yo! MTV Raps” ran from 1988 to 1995, but it’s pop art logo has stood the test of time.
57. Where’s the Beef?
Octogenarian Clara Peller had some major beef (or lack thereof) with the size of burger patties. You knew when a simple slogan rose to enter Presidential politics that Wendy’s was onto something.
Spaceships? Check. Cat-like humanoid aliens fighting interstellar battles? Check. Lion-O, Cheetara and the gang? Check. The Thundercats dominated Saturday Mornings from 1985 to 1989, and produced a sick logo t-shirt to boot. “Thunder! Thunder! Thunder! ThunderCats, HO!”
55. Nirvana Smiley Face
Kurt Cobain and Nirvana took the historic “Have a Nice Day” smiley face seen on bumper stickers and t-shirts, and turned it into a grungeified logo for their merchandise. The rest is rock ’n’ roll t-shirt history.
54. Hello, My Name Is …
Now you don’t need a sticker to let strangers know who you are. You can just wear this handy t-shirt! This witty design is likely the brainchild of someone who’d suffered through one too many insurance seminars or self-help conferences.
53. Captain America
Lone white star. Blue bulls eye. Red and white rings. Step aside baseball, hot dogs, apple pie. This is what hard-core Americana should look like. This t-shirt remains one of the more powerful patriotic expressions to capture young minds.
52. Boston Red Sox
Yankees fans will squirm, but the Red Socks are a combination of cute and cool that mixed with their legendary underdog story, make this a shirt any fan would wear.
51. Rock the Vote
Started for the 1992 Presidential Campaign as a youth voter outreach program and to promote free speech, the Rock the Vote movement has had a huge impact on young voters.
50. The Flash
What could be cooler than a big ol’ shiny, gold lightning bolt on your chest? Uh, running at the speed of light, thank you very much.
49. Abbey Road
The Beatles final album cover showing John, Paul, George, and Ringo crossing Abbey Road has become a badge of Beatlemania, and when put on a t-shirt, you’ve got them all back together right on your chest.
48. The Godfather
From Mario Puzo’s critically-acclaimed novel to Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscar-winning film, The Godfather has helped foster America’s fascination with the Mafia. Since then it’s become a cultural phenomenon, and the white title logo of Don Corleone on a black shirt makes it a very cool wearable movie poster.
47. Make 7 Up Yours
The front: Make 7. The back: Up Yours. This juvenile play on the “Un-Cola” slogan of the time (Make 7Up Yours) made this shirt good for a chuckle and a smile.
In the winter, a t-shirt snug enough to keep warm and yet not so tight to cause perspiration. In the summer, light enough to catch the cross breeze from windows there and there. Sheldon Cooper’s comic genius immortalized in cotton.
A portmanteau of founder’s name Adi Dassler, ADIDAS was founded in Germany and went on to become one of the world’s foremost sporting brands. You can still believe it stands for All Day I Dream About Sports. We won’t tell anyone.
44. Save Ferris
“Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in awhile. You could miss it.” Ohhhh yeahhh.
43. Peace Frogs
Peace Frogs originally started as a company selling a line of multi-colored international flag shorts. The reason they adopted the frog logo was because the frog just so happens to be recognized as a symbol of peace and good luck.
42. Legends of the Hidden Temple
Over the moat and through the Steps of Knowledge, to Olmecs head we go! Red Jaguars, Blue Barracudas. Green Monkeys, Orange Iguanas, Purple Parrots and Silver Snakes marked competitors on Nickelodeans Legends of the Hidden Temple.
41. Jack Daniels
The historic Tennessee Whiskey is not only good for drinking and BBQ marinades — it’s iconic label is pretty cool to wear on your chest too. A classic American brand that’s got a nose for merchandising.
Elegant. Tasteful. Classy. Three words never used to describe this immortal counterpart to the other famous faux apparel tee, the Tuxedo t-shirt.
The Hypercolor T-shirt, created in the ‘80s, reaches its all-time peak selling more than $50 million worth of shirts in a four-month period.
38. Mud Smiley Face
For some reason, Forrest Gump decided to go for a little run. So he ran to the end of the Road. And when he got there, he thought he’d maybe run to the end of town. Eventually he ran into an ocean and had to turn around, but on the way he just happened to create one of the most iconic t-shirt designs, the Smiley Face T.
37. Three Wolves Howling at the Moon
The Meryl Streep of Amazon Reviews, this entry just keeps on giving. A delightful collection of absurd mock reviews catapulted this t-shirt into Internet fame and it remains a staple of t-shirt culture.
36. No Fear
Quite popular in the mid ’90s (during the rise of extreme sports), No Fear shirts show off catchy slogans about living life on the edge and defying death. Pair that with an sharp-eyed, intense logo and you had yourself quite the t-shirt trend.
Open from 1973 to 2006, CBGB (Country, BlueGrass, and Blues) was a pillar of the New York City music scene. Located at 315 Bowery, the club hosted acts from Blondie to the Beastie Boys, The Misfits to Talking Heads. It is now a John Varvatos retail store.
34. Have a Nice Day
The road to iconic tee was a lot longer than Forrest’s run, starting in 1943 as a Swedish film promo and blossoming as the novelty brainchild of two guys from Philly as “Have a Happy Day” in 1972. Somehow “happy” later got switched to “nice.”
The near-universal outfit for a lifeguard, this red shirt with a white cross (or white with red) can be seen being worn at beaches and pool facilities all across the U.S. Not to mention, there was this TV show called “Baywatch” …
32. The Ramones
Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, punk rock founders, and not a single Ramone by birth among them. The Ramones influence on music history is steadfast, and their iconic logo makes our iconic t-shirt list.
31. Mickey Mouse
Following the popularity of Mickey Mouse, a Miami-based T-shirt company, Tropix Togs, purchases the exclusive rights to print the figure on a shirt. Emilio Estevez wore one in “The Outsiders” and, boom, it became cool.
30. Coca Cola
As one of the most recognizable brands in the world, it’s not surprising a Coca-Cola shirt made the list. With its script logo iconic in its own right, Coke has been able to spawn a collection of t-shirts around the world that never seem to go out of fashion.
29. I Want My MTV
32 years ago, television was like the town from Footloose; void of rock music and ’80s dancing. Enter: MTV. Over the past three decades MTV revolutionized the airwaves, creating an industry for everything from music videos to bus-based dating shows.
28. Harley Davidson
What once became synonymous with “Hell’s Angels” turned into a t-shirt for every man, symbolizing the freedom of the open road – on weekends of course, and as long as we’re back in time for dinner and to put the kids to bed.
27. James Dean’s Plain White Tee
You don’t always need a cause to make a fashion statement. In 1955 James Dean soared to iconic status in Rebel Without A Cause, rocking nothing more than a white shirt and leather jacket.
26. Peace Sign
All they were saying was “Give Peace a Chance.” And many continue to say it with a t-shirt to this day.
25. Keep Calm and Carry On
Designed in 1939 to raise British morale during WWII but not publicly displayed until rediscovery in 2000, Keep Calm and Carry On speaks to a new generation of beleaguered masses.
Army follows the Navy by introducing the “Quarter Sleeve” shirt, keeping the boys in the Pacific theater cool in the tropical heat.
23. Charlie Brown
While it could be easy to argue that all of the Peanuts’ gang t-shirts are iconic, none has the impact of the jagged look that embodies the spirit and bum luck of Good Ol’ Charlie Brown.
22. Kiss Me I’m Irish
Popular on St. Patty’s Day, a promise of additional luck makes any Irishman or woman a true commodity.
21. I’m With Stupid
… and it was genius. The grandaddy of the directional T-shirt elicited a symphony of juvenile snickers at the expense of thousands of unsuspecting bystanders.
20. Grateful Dead
The psychedelic phenoms were also social media marketing pioneers, allowing fans to sell unofficial t-shirts outside their shows, as long as they used the official logo.
19. The Tie Dye Tee
Rit Dye, a core component in tie dye is being phased out. The manufacturer of the product launches a huge marketing blitz aimed at the free-spirited youth of the time, due to the psychedelic colors used in the dyeing process. It catches on with hippies around the U.S. and takes off.
18. … And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt
As custom t-shirts gained popularity as destination-travel gifts, a humorous backlash developed in the form of this saying on t-shirts for nearly every spot imaginable.
“When there’s something strange in the neighborhood… Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!” Two movies, a couple animated TV series, and a bunch of video games later, the Ghostbusters franchise remains popular to this day. And when you stick their logo on t-shirts, it’s universally recognizable.
16. Bob Marley
A musical, national, and fashion icon all in one, Bob Marley is a superstar on our list. Selling 25 million copies world wide, responsible for bringing Rastafarianism and reggae to the mainstream, it’s only fitting that his image is immortal.
15. Just Do It – Nike
Advertising exec Dan Wieden credits his inspiration for this iconic advertising campaign to the final words of a convict before execution. Hey! If he can face the firing squad, you can definitely run that marathon.
14. Frankie Say Relax
To overrule censoring of the Frankie Goes to Hollywood song “Relax,” in 1984, label owner Paul Morley prints “FRANKIE SAY RELAX” on T-shirts. It has become something of an graphical inspiration in recent years, with block letter tees becoming all the rage.
The ultimate Rock & Roll t-shirt. Bob Defrin & Gerard Huerta’s gothic A” and “C” lettertype split with that bold lightning bolt is visually captivating. Pair that with 7 Grammy nods and their 2003 induction into the R&R Hall of Fame and you’ve got your self an iconic band and tee all-in-one.
12. Che Guevara
A Marxist figure turned commercial fashion statement, there’s a degree of irony in this entry.
11. RUN DMC
Considered to be one of the most influential hip-hop groups in history, Run-D.M.C. started out performing a new type of rap music in the early 80s. Their innovative musical style helped them achieve fame early, and were the first hip-hop group to be nominated for a Grammy and achieve gold-album status. This block letter tee showing off their emblem is bold, memorable, and represents hip-hop in its original form.
10. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
Wear this entry, play the Wizard of Oz, and just… Woah, man. An iconic image for one of rock’s most emblematic albums, Pink Floyd inspires generations of listeners to try looking to the dark side.
In 1983, the International Drug Abuse Resistance Education program spread across the United States, providing free shirts, and what inadvertently has turned into sleepwear for an entire generation of schoolkids.
8. Tuxedo T-Shirt
The perfect mix of high and low, the tuxedo t-shirt is a timeless addition to any wardrobe. Pair with a fine wool slack for that special occasion, or jeans and chucks for the 80s alternative prom look.
7. Hard Rock Cafe
If you’ve done any traveling, you’ve probably seen someone wearing a Hard Rock Cafe T-Shirt at some point. Each Hard Rock Cafe, along with its vast array of music memorabilia typically sells a shirt with its city name in their gift shop. With over 100 restaurants having opened up all over the world, these shirts have become something of a collectible over the years.
Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na, BATMAN!
The literal power of this phenomenon can be seen on t-shirts everywhere and with the seemingly endless television & movie remakes in nearly every decade of Superman’s existence, this story (and t-shirt design) isn’t getting old any time soon.
4. Rolling Stones “Lick”
Alternative album cover for one of the best rock albums of all time, The Rolling Stones’ “Lick” graphic from the Sticky Fingers LP quickly becomes one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most recognizable symbols.
Providing comic relief in the film Animal House, John Belushi has become something of an icon for college guys everywhere based on his portrayal of oafy fraternity bro, Bluto. A poster of him wearing this shirt (really a sweater) can now be seen on dorm room walls across the country.
2. Vote for Pedro
Wildly popular after the cult hit movie Napoleon Dynamite was released in 2004, the Vote for Pedro shirt has since gained mass appeal. While it’s a relatively simple design on a white/black ringer tee, the movie created quite a visual imprint during Napoleon’s famous dance scene.
1. I ♥ NY
In an almost eureka moment, designer Milton Glaser sketches “I ♥ NY” on a napkin and the logo appears on T-shirts soon after. It then becomes one of the most worn t-shirts of all time. And our most iconic!