In Vancouver, T-shirts get more graphic
At last, the days of hiding under layers upon layers from Vancouver’s winter chill are about to melt away with the impending summer heat. And as the rain-resistant bundles peel off, the T-shirt again reigns supreme on our city’s tentatively sunny streets and around the globe.
But this fixture in the world of fashion has come a long way from James Dean’s plain white tee, with the ubiquitous graphic T-shirt becoming more and more graphic every year.
In phone conversations with the Straight, the creators of local T-shirt companies Terminal City Tees, Shirtmelon, and Bang-On each likened graphic tees to portable canvases. After all, the artistic potential is virtually boundless with the advancements of digital screen-printing and the imaginations of contemporary designers.
“A graphic tee is wearable art,” says Terminal City creator and graphic artist Andrew Macaulay. “You could put just as much time into a T-shirt design as you could a painting. And with the technology we have today, I could put anything you want on a T-shirt, whereas 15 years ago there were limitations.”
One possible signifier of the graphic tee’s rising credibility as artistic expression is its presence in practically every high-fashion designer’s recent collections, from Givenchy’s vivid, kaleidoscopic prints to Marcc’s fiercely original BAD MOTHERF@#KER collection. But that’s not to say that the graphic T-shirt is some newfangled phenomenon.
“T-shirts have been part of everybody’s wardrobe for generations,” says Shirtmelon creator John Turner. “I think what’s changed is just what you can print on them and the technology. There’s such a variety of design out there. The creativity is immense.”
Terminal City offers bold designs that celebrate local pride and culture, like the clever “I Sushi Vancouver” tee ($24.99 at the Terminal City Shirts website ) or the “Eastside Umbrella” shirt ($27.99), an inspired tribute to Rain City’s climate and the Downtown Eastside’s historic Woodward’s Building.
Shirtmelon offers simpler but no less eye-catching designs, like their tongue-in-cheek “Heretic” tee ($19.99 at ShirtMelon.com ) or their retro “45 Adapter” shirt ($19.99).
What’s trending in T-shirts? Geek out to prints of your favourite Internet memes, such as Bang-On’s “Ceiling Cat”. Sure beats a bland brand name or logo.
While Terminal City and Shirtmelon are relatively new to the business, Bang-On’s super-customizable catalogue has been a staple in the local T-shirt market for almost 13 years. And with licensing agreements with the likes of Marvel, countless rock bands, and the Andy Warhol Foundation under its belt, Bang-On’s unique vision is here to stay.
“Bang-On is a place where people can come and express themselves,” says its creator, Craig Doyle. “And our mission statement has always been that we make the best T-shirt transfers in the world. So we try to keep current and cool.”
As for currently emerging trends for graphic tees, Doyle highlights the “geek shirt” as a summer frontrunner. Evidence of the trend can be seen at Bang-On already, from its “Forever Alone” or “Ceiling Cat” Internet meme shirts to their film-nerd-friendly B-movie designs, which highlight such cult classics as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the 3-D Robot Monster (all $20 at The Bang-On website ).
Similarly, Turner points to customers’ desire to express themselves in “140 characters or less”, explaining: “There is a trend that’s tied into people’s online experience. And there are recurring themes in social media of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll, and if you want to put that on a shirt, I say go for it.”
For Macaulay, the recent move toward more artistic and self-expressive tees is, in part, a reaction against shirts slapped with bland brand names or logos. “I think people have decided that they want to say something about themselves rather than be a walking billboard for a corporation,” he says.
But whatever statement you choose to make, “T-shirts are just going to become edgier and edgier,” in Macaulay’s words. Viewer discretion is advised.