Reader Kim e-mailed me this query:
I was wondering if you could do a post with suggestions on how to work graphic t-shirts into a wardrobe with a little style. I must confess that I have a total threadless.com obsession. As a result, I have a ridiculous number of crew neck graphic print shirts, that while they tend to be pretty fitted (a left-over from their former patronage of American Apparel base shirts), are really obviously nerd-a-licious t-shirts. I have pretty good success incorporating t-shirts with other stylish details (various necklines like boat, v’s, scoops, yoke details, sequins, beading, etc) into outfits that look more thought-out. But lately the graphic t-shirts are throwing me for a loop. I usually just default to my t-shirt, boot cut jeans and running shoes (maybe a track jacket for extra layering). All of this is feeling very tired and uninspired. Can you please suggest some ways to make my nerd shirts feel a little more sartorially inspired?
Well. So. Yeah. I will admit to having a drawer full of darling graphic tees that get relatively little wear. So this question posed quite a challenge for me, and I had to dig back into the deep, deep archives to unearth a variety of looks. (As will be evident by the variety of hairstyles and weather visible here.) But hopefully a few of these will spark a few ideas for cute, clever, fun printed tees.
A Peeking Design Element
Naturally, we buy graphic tees because they show, say, or express something we love and/or identify with. But to make them more versatile, it’s important to remember that the whole graphic needn’t be fully visible at all times. Here’ the very top of my “Minnesota Babe” shirt from I Like You is peeking out of my cloak hoody. Just enough design to add interest and depth, even if the entire illustration isn’t visible.
In an otherwise dressy ensemble
Graphic tees can serve as a bridging piece when you want to dress down an outfit. Here, we’ve got big earrings, a full skirt, and heels. With a blouse or cardigan, this would be office-ready. Swap in the graphic tee, and it’s great for a weekend night out. For colder temps, add a leather jacket and tights, trouser jeans and a blazer, or even dress slacks and a chunky cardigan.
This can be tougher with athletic-looking, boxy crewneck graphic tees, but if you choose more casual pieces for the rest of the outfit, it can still work. Below, I’ve got a simple khaki skirt and some Dansko Marcelles. Also try skinny pants and heels, or a miniskirt with tights and boots to make those crewnecks work. You can also add a scarf to soften the neckline, since you’re no longer worried about showing the whole graphic print!
With a longer outer layer
Most of us default to a traditional hoodie or cardigan for graphic tee-based outfits, but longer outer layers work beautifully, too. Long/”boyfriend” cardigans, dusters, and drape-front jackets can all complement tees with busy designs.
Over a tank or long-sleeved tee
This one is unlikely to hold universal appeal, but I’ll throw it out there anyway. Here, I’ve got on a graphic long-sleeve with a boatneck, which looks adorable with the bright tank underneath. Taking a basic graphic crewneck and shoving a bright tank underneath probably won’t work, but graphic tees that have less athletic-looking necklines and detailing are better bets. This layering technique is especially helpful if your tee is a bit too short for the proportions you’re hoping to create, as was the case for me in the outfit above. You can also try a long-sleeved tee as your underlayer for a short-sleeved tee. Definitely a casual, collegiate look that won’t suit all tastes or figures, but one that can be both warm and fun.
Since I’m no expert at graphic tee wearing, I’m hoping you folks can contribute more (and better!) ideas for making these wardrobe staples work! Do you love and wear graphic tees? How do you style yours? Do you mix them into more dressed-up looks, or keep it casual? Feel free to share links to photos of your favorite graphic tee outfits, yours or otherwise.
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