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The Graphic Tee Is Back! The History Behind the 16 Best Graphic T-Shirts for Men

Go through any guy’s closet and you’ll find a handful of graphic tees. The best men’s graphic tees are more than a colorfully quick way to amp up an outfit. Throughout the years, men’s graphic tees have been utilized as a sociological tool signifying political or religious affiliation, club membership, economic strata (or as aspirational tools) and fandom. Your favorite band t-shirt can become a rare collectible and treasured possession, and many worthy causes use t-shirts as a fundraising tool.

Basically, a graphic tee is the fastest way to tell the world who you are (or want to be).

And in 2021, these t-shirts are back in a big way. You can find the best graphic t-shirts for men on runways, influencers’ Instagrams, and in countless closets around the world. So keep reading to find some of our favorite graphic t-shirts for men to rock this summer. First, we’re going to dive into the history of this men’s fashion staple.

A Brief History of Men’s Graphic Tees

Researchers at Skidmore College believe the first graphic tee to appear in TV or film was a costume worn in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. When Dorothy and crew are ushered into Emerald City’s spa, the Oz residents working on the Scarecrow wore tees with the word “Oz” on the front. The second time graphic tees for men made a big splash was in 1942. That’s when the cover of LIFE magazine showcased a member of the Air Corps Gunnery School wearing a fitted white tee. In the verbiage of the time, he looked like a straight hunk.

Through the years, graphic tees became promotional tools for radio stations, workwear uniforms, and theme park souvenirs. In the 70s, wearing a band’s concert tee was the epitome of cool, as they were only available at shows. Starting in the late 1970s, men’s graphic tees became political. The Sex Pistols and punk rockers in general wore graphic message tees from designers Katherine Hamnett or Vivienne Westwood. As the decades rolled on, graphic tees dropped out of popularity until, like many trendy items, they became a fashion staple once more. Fashion designers have taken men’s graphic tees to new heights with price tags ranging from the low $100s to a stratospherically priced $91,500 from Hermes. To be fair, that particular men’s tee is made from crocodile and chiffon. 

How To Style a Men’s Graphic T-Shirt

Tossing on a graphic tee and jeans is a no-brainer. If you’re going to a family-friendly event or venue, double-check that the image and language on your shirt won’t freak out elderly Aunt Tilly or get you tossed from a venue.

You can also dress up a graphic print tee for men by slipping it on under a blazer. When pairing a tee with a blazer, either wear a graphic tee whose print is on the back or find a monochromatic printed tee (grey on grey, black on white, white or black on gray). A solid color or a subtle printed tee helps create a coordinated look rather than a “last-minute” style.

In practice, these shirts are really easy to style, which is one reason they’re so popular. The best graphic t-shirts make an instant fashion statement, and we’ve collected some of our favorite options for men below.