The Most Iconic Brand T-shirts of All Time
Here at CustomInk, we love custom t-shirts. But sometimes, we need to bow down to the brands that started t-shirt trends. You might be a fan of our 100 most iconic t-shirts of all time list, so now we’ve taken a closer look at some of the genres within this list. From school spirit to sports team, our most iconic brand t-shirts have something for everyone, and might even inspire you to create a brand tee of your own.
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. The signature was inspired by the wayhe’d write on his boards with a broad tip marker. He and his business partner, Frank Sinatra Jr. (no relation to the singer) had no idea what an icon their streetwear brand would become. Thirty-plus years later, the brand is still popular—just more mainstream and a tad less edgy.
23. 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. At their peak, the brand had 220 stores across the US. Their best selling t-shirt was a South Park parody called “South Bark”—one that their sportswear director Steve Dawson said “outsold everything.” Ruff, ruff.
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.
21. Property of…
This tee is a classic case of function becomes fashion. In 1932, the football staff at USC wanted to create a shirt that would stop shoulder pads from chafing the players’ skin. USC printed “Property of USC” on these t-shirts to prevent theft. Instead, they became popular with students. Decades later, “Property of…” t-shirts are standard fare in most college bookstores, um, we mean websites.
20. 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. The famous Notre Dame leprechaun, however, was created in 1964 by sports artist Theodore W. Drake for $50.
19. 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.” According to Brew Thru, they started coming out with designs in addition to their annual shirt, which showcased lighthouses or popular trends. The annual shirt is still the biggest seller though, accounting for about half of the 100,000 shirts sold every summer. They often see visitors purchase 15-20 t-shirts at a time!
18. Planet Hollywood
A themed restaurant chain backed by the Hollywood action elite? What could go wrong? Founded by Robert Earl with partners Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone, Planet Hollywood opened in 1991 in New York City. While over 100 locations have closed, 6 are still operating by a theme park near you.
An icon in the ring, and an icon on our list, Hulk Hogan has defined a segment of popular culture. He made his debut in the WWF in 1980, and used the stage name “Hulk” due to his resemblance to the Incredible Hulk character. His true superstardom began after a big win in 1984, and the fan frenzy that ensued became “Hulkamania”. Hogan spearheaded an entire genre of entertainment, which spanned from TV to movies to apparel (mostly of the ripped variety).
16. Hello, Kitty!
Hello, Japan. Hello, 1974. Hello, 5 billion dollar media empire. It’s Hello Kitty! For over 40 years, the Hello Kitty! brand has gone global with t-shirts and apparel being a huge part of its success. Owned by Japanese company Sanrio, the famous kitty has appeared on everything from coin purses, to pencils, to toaster ovens. Today, Sanrio even sells Hello Kitty motor oil, a smart car, and wine—we’ll drink to that…or cat?
15. John Deere
The gold standard in tractors and farm equipment, John Deere has made the colors green & yellow their own with their iconic logo. The leaping deer trademark has been a part of the brand for over 135 years. The first logo was created in 1876, and has evolved over the years from a sketch of a deer leaping over a log, to a solid silhouette of a deer leaping. In 2000, the logo changed from a deer leaping downward, to a deer leaping upward. The brand has become a fashion statement of farm-folk and country lovers alike, yee haw!
14. French Connection United Kingdom (fcuk)
A global fashion retailer based in London, French Connection hit marketing gold when they added the letters “UK” for the United Kingdom to the company letters “FC”. The idea was a bit of a happy accident, when the company opened a location in Hong Kong. Faxes between the London and Hong Kong locations were labeled “FCHK” and “FCUK.” In 2016, the brand re-launched their 90s cult favorite tees, and still sell them on their website today. We know it’s controversial, but it sure is eye-catching.
13. 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. The Red Sox have had their share of logos over the years, and most are still seen on fan gear. But since 2009, a simple pair of red socks with a white heel and toe have been the official logo, with the alternative or cap logo being the iconic Boston “B.”
12. 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. From 1999-2005, this Y2K campaign by ad agency Young & Rubicam, featured Orlando Jones walking around telling everyone to “Make 7 Up Yours,” to which he received…less than friendly responses.
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. In 1949, Dassler registered the “Adi Dassler adidas Sportschuhfabrik” and began working with just 47 employees. The brand attributes its success to a “miracle” — a German national football team won while wearing screw-in-studs on football boots—or cleats. It’s had partnerships with FIFA—providing the World Cup ball since 1970, and was even a favorite brand of Run DMC.
10. 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. The brand says that to its customers, Peace Frogs isn’t an icon, but a state of mind—for hippies of all ages and sizes.
9. Jack Daniels
The historic Tennessee Whiskey is not only good for drinking and BBQ marinades — its iconic label is pretty cool to wear on your chest too. Until the 1950s, Jack Daniel’s sales depended mostly on word of mouth, and became a favorite of high-profile people like Winston Churchill and Frank Sinatra, who called it the “nectar of the gods”. The first time the brand even advertised, it was a small black and white ad. Today, the black and white logo remains a classic, especially when you’re looking for a Jack and Coke.
Seattle-based sportswear company Generra created the Hypercolor t-shirt, which became a household and school hallway staple in the early 90s. At its peak in early 1991, the company sold $50 million worth of color changing t-shirts, shorts, pants, and more in a four-month period. The shirts were dyed twice, once with a permanent color and again with a thermochromic dye that would change colors when it got warm. But, you had to be careful when you washed your Hypercolor tee, otherwise it might turn a mucky brown color in the wash. Recently, some brands tried to bring back the color-changing fad, but it didn’t bounce back.
As one of the most recognizable brands in the world, it’s not surprising a Coca-Cola shirt made our 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. The name was actually thought of by creator John Smith Pemberton’s bookkeeper, Frank Robinson. He said that the two Cs would look good in advertisements. Robinson is also who designed the famous script logo. Throughout the years the logo has gotten small tweaks, like extra swirls or a modified tail, and since 1947, has been associated with the color red. But even today, through a 125th anniversary and the “you name it” campaign with names printed on the drink, the brand has stuck with its script roots.
6. I Want My MTV
Over 30 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. Frank Olinsky, one of the designers of the MTV logo back in 1981, says that one of the final revisions to the logo was putting “music television” under the “M”. This was changed in 2010, when the words were removed from the logo for good.
5. 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 he was back in time for dinner and to put the kids to bed. It began with 21-year-old William S. Harley in 1901, when he completed his blueprint drawing of an engine designed to fit a bicycle. In 1910, the famous “Bar & Shield” logo was used for the first time, and was trademarked a year later. Unlike most historic logos, this one has remained pretty much the same from the start.
Army followed the Navy by introducing the “quarter sleeve” shirt, which was first included as standard-issue gear in the Navy in 1913. But we can’t talk about this iconic ARMY tee without giving a nod to to armed forces, who created the popularity of the t-shirt itself. As part of the uniform, the t-shirt gained popularity, eventually becoming an official English word, and going on to become a workwear staple for mechanics, miners, farmers, and more.
3. 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. On a positive note, the Just Do It campaign may have just saved Nike. The brand was going through tough times and had laid of 20 percent of its workers when the slogan was launched. In the decade that followed, Nike’s sales increased by 1000 percent.
In 1983, the International Drug Abuse Resistance Education program spread across the United States, providing free t-shirts, pens, and other branded gear to program graduates. The tees inadvertently turned into sleepwear for an entire generation of school kids, and still bring feelings of nostalgia to 90s kids who see the italicized logo, sometimes in fun neon colors. You can still find D.A.R.E. merchandise for sale online, however the D.A.R.E. program has some strict rules when it comes to use of the trademark.
1. 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. The popularity of the t-shirt happend by accident. According to Thrillist, Hard Rock’s owners sponsored a soccer team in 1974, and gave them logo t-shirts. There were extra, so they brought them back to the cafe to give to customers, and they became a hit!