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Men's Graphic Tees: 7 Crucial Dos and Don’ts

Wearing a t-shirt with graphics is a little bit like bowling. Get it right and you’re the cool guy with a smooth touch. Get it and wrong and you’re a foolish child who people may laugh at. Those are simply the risks you take if you want to sport an image, logo, or band name on your chest.

But don’t be deterred! It’s 2019 and grown men do wear graphic tees. You just need to observe a handful of basic style rules to make those fashion gutterballs a thing of the past. Here are 7 major dos and don’ts to follow if you’re wearing a graphic t-shirt.

1. DO: Choose minimal

Generally speaking, where graphic apparel is concerned, less is more. A single word on a shirt is better than a phrase or sentence. One contained image is better than a sprawling, busy picture. A subtle print is easier to rock than a loud one. 

Obviously there are exceptions to all of these rules. But erring on the subdued side is a solid way to avoid serious graphic faux pas.

2. DON’T: Assume designer logos are good

The purpose of a designer logo isn’t necessarily to make clothing look good - it’s to show off your purchase, and draw attention to your spending habits. Maybe that luxe fashion house’s logo will look stylish floating in the middle of your chest. And then again, maybe not. 

In other words, try not to let brand associations affect your appraisal of the t-shirt’s general look and feel. Size it up with the same critical eye you’d bring to any other piece of clothing.

3. DO: Experiment with retro

The entire graphic t-shirt phenomenon is something of a throwback to 90s style. So don’t be afraid to dig up some of those old band tees and see how they feel! A faded, worn look can really add to the appeal, as long as you keep it within reason. (If a vintage tee is truly ratty or threadbare, it might be time to say goodbye.)

Of course, ‘retro’ can include other kinds of old-school designs, too. But will that Jazz solo cup print look good splashed across your chest? Or will it just look goofy? There’s really no telling ahead of time - it all depends on your personal vibe and taste. You’ll just have to experiment.

4. DON’T: Wear ‘joke’ shirts

The point of a t-shirt is to cover your torso and give you some light protection from the elements. The point is not to make strangers roll their eyes in a shopping mall. If your tee has (or is) a punchline, you’re doing it wrong. 

You know the kind of tee we’re talking about, don’t you? If your shirt says “Save water. Drink BEER,” give it one final, sad chuckle and bury it in the woods.

5. DO: Layer it up

Graphic tees can look amazing with an extra layer of outerwear to set them off. A denim jacket or blazer, in particular, can frame and balance the visual activity on your shirt. If you’re going for a ‘smart casual’ vibe - e.g. at your office, a mid-range restaurant, or an art gallery, that mix of formal and informal can give your style a snazzy little nudge.

You can also try wearing a long-sleeve t-shirt beneath your graphic tee. This is more of a throwback look, but some people can absolutely pull it off.

6. DON’T: Mistake it for formal wear

Streetwear has been steadily upending high fashion, with sneaker culture redefining luxury footwear and hip-hop, surf, and skater-punk styles gaining wide appeal. In today’s boardrooms, you’re just as likely to see a hoodie as a three-piece suit.

Still, your graphic t-shirt is not for formal settings - even if the imagery is artsy and abstract. If you need to look classy, stick with a classic button-down shirt.

7. DO: Wear shirts that fit

Of all the fashion guidelines you’ll come across, this rule is the most indispensible. Make sure your graphic t-shirt fits properly. Too tight and your flesh will bulge out in weird ways. Too loose and you’ll look like a kid playing dress-up. Your t-shirt should gently hug your body without constricting your movement. When you pinch the cloth, there should be just a few inches of slack.

Not sure what a perfectly-contoured shirt feels like? Try a Second Skin Crew Neck tee from Tommy John for surreal comfort and fit.