Different t-shirt styles - a guide to classic tees

Different t-shirt styles - a guide to classic tees

Boxy vs. Regular Fit Sweatshirts: Which Style Suits You Best? Reading Different t-shirt styles - a guide to classic tees 13 minutes Next The History of the T-Shirt
The history of t-shirts is curiously fascinating. When you understand how they have evolved, it should be obvious why they have become a wardrobe staple across all generations. But while t-shirts are popular, it is possible that you’ll favour some styles over others. We’re not talking about how your t-shirt is manufactured and how it fits you but about the artwork that may adorn your t-shirt. We think that t-shirt styles largely fall into the following categories:
  • Simplicity (zero or minimal artwork)
  • Passions (art, culture, sport)
  • Values (political, economic, social, environmental)
  • Vibes (retro, vintage, emotions)

Take a look through to see which you already have in your wardrobe and which you may wish to add.


Now, not everybody likes to signal something via their clothing. Some people shun logos and artwork entirely preferring to avoid indicating any kind of endorsement. Others just like the simplicity of a classic James Dean white t-shirt. It’s not that such an individual is a rebel without a cause but that a clean, minimalist look is what appeals.

- Block colours (monochrome / bright / pastel / earthy) 

When it comes to choosing a t-shirt with zero artwork, the principal design choice is often  about the colour. Yet, block  colour t-shirts have nuances that can be more than just about choosing your favourite shade .

• Monochrome t-shirts (meaning those of one colour) that are white or black are not only classics in their own right but may also lend themselves more to formal settings. This may have something to do with formal business dress being about white shirts, black shoes, grey or navy blue suits with a power tie. Any of these colours will likely pair well with each other when considering a t-shirt plus bottom (skirts, leggings, trousers, jeans etc.).

Of course, for some people these colours may signal a lack of personality. This leaves you with the following options:

  • Bright colours can help to brighten up your own day and/or for those around you. This is one way to stand out, especially in the summer months when everybody is feeling more confident and seeking to maximise the fun times!
  • Pastel colours straddle this muted-bright divide in an elegant way and can offer a sophisticated look whether paired with white or beige bottoms - or with some stone-washed denim.
  • Earthy colours offer another style dimension. Comprising more natural hues such as moss green, brown or dark red, these colours can work quite well for the autumn months.

Astute fashion observers will note that logo-free fashion is not just about shopping the basics section of wherever you buy your clothes. Brands such as Brunello Cucinelli and Loro Piana and other sustainable luxury brands espouse logo-free fashion that allows wearers to exude a sense of quiet luxury.

- Small brand logo

For those that are not rigidly avoiding logos, your options for choice of t-shirt widen to include small, discreet logos. Logos are usually no more than a couple of square centimetres and are typically placed in the upper left quarter of the t-shirt (not too far from your heart). While the chest logo is the most popular in this genre, embroidered or printed logos can also appear on the sleeve or shoulder blade of the t-shirt.

Most brands aspire to reach a level of recognition where they can ditch the brand name in the logo, which can give an even simpler look to your t-shirt.

The logo can convey all sorts of signals associated with that brand, including how expensive it is. Whether the brand is preppy, laid-back, adventurous, trendy and/or expensive might be part of your signalling (some even develop negative connotations so watch out!); other times you might just think the logo looks cute.


Some people become so good at what they do that it is a privilege to witness them in their element. That may be a feint followed by a left-footed finish into the top corner from Messi or a delightful new arrangement of a classic piece from Lang Lang; horses for courses.

At the same time, it is entirely possible that the skill is not the most refined but an element of the story is just as captivating. It could be an underdog, like Leicester City winning the Premier League (called a “Cinderella story” in the US), or the lyrics to a song that help you understand why you feel the way you do.

These experiences can lead to such a strong affinity with the artform and/or the artist that you want to express it in some way. Some start fanclubs to meet others with the same passion; others are content to just buy the t-shirt. Fashion is, after all, a form of self-expression.

- Sports replica tees and sports-inspired t-shirts 

One of the most curious things about sports is how much it shapes the identity of even those who only spectate. There are people whose entire personality becomes a football club! They will know which iteration of the club’s kit was used in which year, if any shades of the club’s kit colours were unlucky and so on. This means that each new kit is scrutinised keenly by a good portion of the fanbase. Understandable considering how prices seem to rise ever higher. This is the life of a tribal football fan and this club-based subculture is well documented.

What has been a slower burn passion is that of classic kit obsessives. These are usually football fans at heart who perhaps don’t have diehard club allegiance or just have more than a passing interest in kit design and fashion. The best way to understand this if you are new to it is just to go and experience the range of offerings and choose what you like. The sentimental value of each shirt can be simply about the design itself if you’re only interested in the fashion side. The passion for the Nigerian kit for the 2018 World Cup, for example, spilled over into the mainstream and the kit sold out with 3 million pre-orders.

But if you want to know what truly inspires the kind of passion that football does, learning a bit about the team whose kit you’re interested in (as well as its best players) will stand you in better stead. Having said that, some clubs seem to have such a good sense of fashion that their kits are arguably more famous than the teams themselves. So if you buy a kit just because you like the way it looks, that’s also fair play!

You’ll hopefully forgive us for waxing eloquent about the beautiful game. It is after all the most popular global sport and while we love it, there are still things to work on. Let’s hope that football brings about more positive change when it comes to sustainability - like it seems to be doing  for the fight against prejudice.

It’s also worth noting that while we’ve gone on a bit about replica tees (often based on synthetics like polyester), there are also t-shirts influenced by sports and sporting greats (often usually based on cotton). Some like Michael Jordan have their own brands replete with t-shirts that fall in the Simplicity category with a small brand logo as well as larger sports insignia.

- Music

Whether we’re celebrating or commiserating, for so many of us life’s ups and downs are accompanied by music. First love, first heartbreak, skiving from school, getting a job, marriage, birth of a child, achieving a major life goal or some other cherished memories with family or friends. The mention of some of these life events may already be triggering a musical memory in you. These memories can be even more potent if the music was provided by your favourite band or singer.

As with sport, there is the technical proficiency and/or the emotional impact that these artists have on you that cause you to want to express your inner fan. Where these music-related t-shirts differ from sports is that the merchandise that musicians sell is usually not worn by the musicians themselves. While the kit that footballers wear and promote is in essence their work uniform, for musicians t-shirts are something that vary between being souvenirs of a concert tour through to being part of the musicians’ artistic output.

As with sports t-shirts, if you buy a music-based t-shirt just because you like it, you may as well be honest about it. After all, you wouldn’t be the first person to buy a Nirvana t-shirt without knowing anything about the band.

- Art

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But some artworks are loved by so many for so long that they are practically synonymous with art. The Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s David are perhaps the better known examples. Yet these and other major artworks don’t quite feature on t-shirts as often as perhaps they ought to. 

So why have we bothered to mention this category? The reason is simply that art is in fact a broader category than the preceding sentences suggest. It could obviously include music but that arguably has been a longer running artform (and thus a more mature merchandise market). Instead what we are getting at here are things like films, games, TV shows and even memes.

Disney, with its vast repository of intellectual property, can alone span this range of films to memes. But, of course, we need not limit ourselves to media behemoths. There are also plenty of independent options, from graphics artists to YouTubers, generating their own independent art.


Your values can be derived from things you care about. Valuing equality may come from caring about those experiencing prejudice; valuing circularity may come from wanting a zero-waste lifestyle. As we mentioned before, fashion is a form of self-expression and where there is freedom of expression, we hope it is being used wisely and not taken for granted! 

Values can relate to topics that are political, economic, social and environmental in nature although these are not mutually exclusive. As we’re focusing on the designs (and not the topics), let’s take a look at how values can be communicated using different design formulas.

- Slogans 

Slogans are often about political preferences and campaigning for a cause. One of the better known examples is that of Katharine Hamnett. She viewed her T-shirts as a way of getting her message across: "If you want to get the message out there, you should print it in giant letters on a t-shirt.

Stylistically, these are not meant to be subtle messages. Rather, these slogans should be loud and clear. The latter may seem obvious but pithiness is an artform that not all can get right.

- Graphics

We’ve used the word graphics but in reality we mean anything that isn’t words (which is what slogans are about). Logos are truly a part of this category and probably the best known one here is the logo for Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament which is now so widespread that it is often interpreted as a logo for peace (which overlooks the origins of the logo).

However, to simplify this category into logos would not really do the artform justice. Some blend graphics with words such as the Sustainable Development Goals from the United Nations or contain the NASA logo (to show how much you value science or space exploration). Others contain no words such as the Climate Stripes and Biodiversity Stripes.


This last category is much more than just a collection of the miscellaneous. It’s more to do with feelings that are more whimsical than the passions and values we refer to above. As it’s whimsical, getting too focused into categories would miss the point. So rather, than break these out, we’ll tell you about some of the ideas. 

Sometimes you might be in a particular mood without feeling passionately about that mood or valuing it, right?! For example, you might be in the mood for a bit of humour and express that through your t-shirt. Graphically, this might look like any of the above categories but take a derivative form in some way. One thing to bear in mind when wearing these types of t-shirts: if the vibes your t-shirt is signalling are not in line with the event you’re going to, be ready for conflict (e.g. wearing a funny t-shirt to a serious event).

- “I’m with stupid.”

Other times, you might feel like rocking a vintage vibe. To achieve the retro look, you might actually wear clothes that are old from your younger days, your parents’ clothes or possibly a visit to a charity shop /retro clothing shop. This vibe might give a completely different aesthetic to the trend of the day through its use of alternative iconography such as those that relate to your country from previous generations (perhaps different lifestyles or hobbies).

Another way the vintage look may be achieved is through alternative colour combinations and/or designs. To give an example, such a t-shirt may use stripes (across the range of thick stripes down to pinstripes) or a diagonal sash rather than a single block colour.


Clearly, preferences will differ over which are the true classic t-shirt styles. Having a range and knowing when to deploy each for maximum effect is an artform in itself but this is not the only way to dress. Dress in a way that you vibe with.

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