WE LOVE GRAPHIC TEES
Who doesn’t love a good tee? In this edit we dive into the specifics about why we love them, and how we like to style them. Plus an exclusive interview with Kelly Cole!
I LOVE A GOOD GRAPHIC TEE
Words by Arcy Hawks
I like a good tee. I don’t wear them often for work, but it’s my go-to on weekends or whenever things are casual. I don’t wear them to have dinner out or over to a friend’s house, but they are gardening, house cleaning, dog walking, and grocery shopping go-to items.
I am a fan of the more obscure graphic tee. An IFYYK type. This is not to say I didn’t buy my fair share of concert tees in the 80s, and I wish I still had them. I like a good graphic, not too busy, and something with a bit of nostalgia. I have a T-shirt from the old VC at the village that I will never part with. Most of my tees are from the brands we carry. A hand-painted tee from Visvim, one from Bode, a Tee from the Brooklyn Museum from the Virgil Abloh exhibit, and a couple of tees from 6397 when they did a collection of country singers’ names. I have Merle and Cash.
We think about making our own tees with something special, but I can’t find the right image or words. Words are also strong, graphic, and thought-provoking. Katherine Hamnett’s famous tee that Wham wore is a great example. Supreme has made a fortune on the sale of its graphic tees. We spoke with Kelly Cole, a vintage t-shirt dealer, about what makes a tee worth the 500.00 price tag. Rarity and, sometimes, just popularity.
Nostalgia plays a large part in collecting. I also believe that humor is a draw. Remember the tee that had an arrow pointing in one direction and saying, “I’m with stupid.” Not very PC these days, but I bet it’s in someone’s tee collection.
Maybe you are a keeper of some great vintage t-shirts or just looking to add a few to your wardrobe. Either way, wear it with style. Under a boxy blazer, over a slim skirt, layered with a cashmere cardigan, or just with your favorite jeans. The graphic tee is definitely Habits Style.
INTERVIEW WITH KELLY COLE
We reached out to one of our favorite vintage collectors, brands, and overall creative mind Kelly Cole to discuss graphic tees. Cole has cemented himself as an all over creative from acting, designing, DJing, and curating since the 80s. “The Kelly Cole brand has long boasted a loyal following of entertainment personalities including Bradley Cooper, Chelsea Handler, Christina Aguilera, Rooney Mara, Kid Cudi, and Charlie Hunnam, among others. The flagship KELLY COLE retail store was located at 175 S. La Brea in Los Angeles and featured the Kelly Cole line of denim, t-shirts and accessories, as well as a select inventory of hand-picked vintage items and curiosities. Cole’s brand collaborations have included a t-shirt collection for TOMMY HILFIGER and a capsule collection of apparel and accessories for GUNS N ROSES” (kellycole.com). Check out our exlcusive interview for the inside scoop on vintage graphic tees.
How Long have you been in the business of sourcing, collecting , and selling graphic tees?
21 years, officially. I started wearing vintage tees in the 90s. When I moved from NYC to LA in 2001, it was so much about jeans and t-shirts here culturally, that I became obsessed with them and opened a little store called Lo-Fi, which was focused on vintage denim and vintage ts and no one had really done a curated store around vintage tees so it kind of took off.
I feel this fashion staple has it’s ebbs and flows, how do you keep stock fresh and people interested?
It has been pretty consistent for me. I haven’t really experienced a loss of interest in the past 20 years. Maybe because there are always new clients who discover the magic, if you will, of vintage tees, for one reason or another. Sure, I guess some people who are temporarily interested move on to another trend, but they seem to transcend trends because people identify with them for so many different reasons. Covid times saw a HUGE surge in values and collecting, etc... because a whole younger generation got involved in buying and selling and a lot of sneaker culture kids embraced them. It went crazy.
What makes a tee vintage and collectible and not just a tee you find at the goodwill that has the name of your high school on it and are these just as desirable?
There are a lot of variables. First is rarity. There are a finite number of any given shirt, and if it was made in very limited supply that’s a good start (but if no one cares about the subject/theme or it has a bad graphic, despite it’s scarcity, it can be valueless). Marry that with a desirable theme, say a popular band, etc... or a counterculture or taboo theme, and then add good size and soft thin wear and fade and these are all factors that affect price. 1990s shirts became very desirable in the past decade because as people in general got larger in the 1990s, shirts were made in larger sizes, so more people can wear those today, whereas 1970s and 1980s shirts tend to be much smaller. I’m not sure anyone would want a shirt from my high school unless it checked these boxes: If it was a great color, soft and thin, in a great size with a great mascot then perhaps. It has to make sense visually and it has to be comfortable if it’s something random.
With each generation looking for a memory, what is popular with each? Say What are Gen. Z, Millennials, Gen X, and boomers looking for respectively?
I wouldn’t know how to speak specifically to the different generations to be honest. But people tend to gravitate generally to bands and popular culture from the era in their own lives that hold fond memories for them. This is stating the obvious I suppose. Again, the 90s and even early 2000s(ugh) are what most twenty and thirty somethings are into lately.
What is the one of the rarest tees you have come across and what would it have been worth?
I once had a shirt from a legendary RAF rally that had once been owned by Joe Strummer. I sold it for a lot but I would say that now it was priceless.
With the “fake” vintage inspired tees that companies like Urban Outfitters or Forever 21 put out, Do you feel it becomes harder to source and educate people on true vintage?
I think people that wear those aren’t concerned with the properties of a vintage shirt that make it valuable and often scoff at the pricing of vintage. It’s ok. There’s always going to be that. I don’t let that phase me. The people that are interested in a thing that was actually THERE will always prefer vintage and seek it out. For a lot of people having something that has real history, that is connected back to a more integral time, is very important. Particularly in this time where everything is so transient and disposable. I think there will always be a market for that. Because it has truth in it. Replicas with artificial distress do not. It’s similar to people who will pay crazy money for say, a designer handbag. They want THE thing. They would know and care if it wasn’t the real thing. The person who would carry a counterfeit does not.
Lastly, What is your coveted tee?
A David Bowie Ziggy Stardust promo tee I once had and regret selling. Major bummer. I’ll always be looking. Hopefully one day I will be reunited.
HOW TO STYLE A GRAPHIC TEE
Words by Arcy Hawks
When styling an outfit, finding one piece you want to wear and center around it is most accessible. The same goes for graphic t-shirt styling. Select a favorite graphic tee first. You can go to two places from here. Option one is a classic “Americana” fit, great denim, a good sneaker or boot, and accessorize with a bag or fun earrings to spice it up but not take away from a cool graphic t-shirt. The other option is to wear a skirt or a dress under the T-shirt. This can help add a feminine touch to your t-shirt. A blazer thrown over the top and your favorite ballet flat, loafer, or pointy shoe will take the fit to the next level!
A STYLE EVERYONE LOVES
Words by Milli Dawson
My love for graphic tees came from when I danced and would travel; I would get a new graphic tee at every dance competition. I have probably 17 “Irish Step Dancing” team shirts and national and regional shirts. They are odd, full of strange graphics of Irish signs, shoes, and girls in wigs. The Tees used to be my favorite thing to wear when I was younger. I don’t wear them as much anymore; I gravitate towards more vintage tees that I have. There is one T-shirt I have that says “Los Angeles” 1984. My best friend’s sister gave it to me, and it is so thick and has lasted well throughout the years. I was in Persephone one day this summer and got stopped because of it. A random stranger told me that he had the same one from his parents, who worked in the Olympics in 1984, and those were the volunteer T-shirts. I love that there is so much history surrounding old band t-shirts, sporting shirts, etc. It is one of the few things you can re-find and continue to learn more about its story!
A SENSE OF IDENTITY
Words by Cade Hawks
It seems like graphic tees have been popular since the 70’s, with only recently elevating to the runway. I have always been a big fan of a good graphic tee. Growing up I paid close attention to my favorite skateboard brands and made sure I represented the brands I identified with. From oversized DC shoes tee with a massive logo, to more lowkey local shop tees. It was not until later I wanted no logos on anything. Either way, whatever graphics you wore seemed to automatically place you in a social category. Whether you are into punk, sports, hip-hop, live music, or vintage there is something out there for you.
Then came the hype. Supreme, Bape, Off White and others started releasing graphic tees labeled as streetwear. This changed how a graphic tee is looked at in a major way. All of the sudden a new $65 Supreme tee is being resold for $400. When Virgil Abloh started his first brand, Pyrex Visions, he was creating simple screen printed graphics. His vision and fearless approach helped usher in a new wave of fashion and style. Graphic tees are seen all over the catwalk nowadays. Needless to say, without Virgil, Kanye, Pharrell, and Nigo graphics and graphic tees would not be held in the same caliber in the fashion as they are today.