Well before your parents let you use the word "hell" to refer to your pants, and even prior to the Abercrombie-addled aughts, there was another class of clothing that defined your style: the screen-printed tee of the 90s. Few things exemplify this weird decade better than the double entendres, angry existentialism, and crass dad jokes splashed across the most iconic t-shirts from that time.
Take note: The more cringe-worthy the tee is now, the bigger a hero you were back then. And whether you were 7 or 17, you definitely wore one of these.
Over the span of four months in 1991, the company sold $50 million worth of these color-changing, heat-sensitive tees. Manufactured with two dyes — one that was the base and one that was science — the shirts were mostly seen on the mouthbreather who shared his Dunkaroos with you, but just one cookie, and you had to just take it dry or not at all because he definitely wouldn't let you dip it in the frosting. Whatever, he watched an unhealthy amount of Zoom.
GAP LOGO TEES
Not long after the mid-priced white-bread brand hit San Francisco in 1969, it appeared in every mall in America and became your go-to before cruising Sam Goody for the latest Bush album while wondering if Kelly like-liked you. Which she didn’t, even if she had to like-like someone. Excluding a dark time in 2010 when the Gap tried to rebrand itself, its famous white serif font logo has remained unchanged since 1986.
HARD ROCK CAFE
You once went on a family vacation where you met your first “girlfriend" who lived in Nevada, so her mom wouldn't ever let her visit, but you guys totally went to first before you went out to dinner with your family and your dad got you this cool jersey cotton t-shirt. You wore it almost as many times a week as there are global Hard Rock locations. So, like, a lot — currently, there are 175 in 53 countries.
Drug Abuse Resistance Education formally began in 1984 when police officers raided 5th grade classrooms across the country to fearmonger about controlled substances and gang violence. The t-shirt everyone received after graduating from the program was (and still is?) excellent for laser tag and/or wearing ironically because you’re totally doing substances. F*ck tha police!
This brand was named for that thing in basketball when a player is fouled while shooting, makes the shot, then makes the awarded foul shot as well. If you wore one of these, absolutely no one crushed recess harder than you. One time, Jen told you that Kelly definitely like-liked you, even though your shirt totally insulted her with quotes like "My game and your mom... they're both PHAT”.
Increased interest in “extreme sports”, like motocross and drinking Surge, contributed to the popularity of nihilistic machismo via lifestyle brand logo t-shirt, and No Fear was born. Slogans like “Life’s not too short, it’s just that you’re dead for so long” and “2nd place is the first loser” seeped into the malleable minds of a generation, which is why everyone whose formative years took place in the 90s feels so entitled... probably. When you really thought about it, you didn’t actually relate to your shirt that much, but you knew that had to, because "if you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space," man.
The alternative kid’s Mecca, this retail mall chain had at least 47 different black tees, each with white scrawling text that suggested mental instability and/or promoted social isolation. They were most popular towards the end of the decade, and among kids who felt a strong connection to the dystopian themes of The Giver and brooded about it while re-stocking headphones at Radioshack.
The origin story: Once, while on a rafting trip, a few founding company members were each bestowed with a pair of oversized colored shorts. A particularly enthusiastic recipient exclaimed, “Man, these puppies are BIG!”, and thus commenced the brand's singular decade of popularity. Emblazoned with a womanizing cartoon dog who had a big frickin’ attitude, these t-shirts were the go-to for pre-pubescent 15-year-olds and Curley, the guy down at the Getty station who bought them Newports.
Somehow, these statement tees that often encouraged you to “go hard” "in the buff" were actually allowed in schools.This was great because they sounded like sex things, and sex was the most exciting, you imagined. You were never quite sure if you actually understood what the slogans meant, but... “naked”!
These bawdy, not-so-subtle innuendo shirts were reserved for nice nights out to the local all-you-can-eat, or for that one kid in fourth grade whose mom let him watch South Park. The brand’s pedigree makes a whole lot of sense: Per their site, the company was created “after 24 hours of binge drinking” by two brothers. One who is a “full-time drunk and part-time suntan lotion salesman”, and the other, a guy who just likes golf. The variety is impressive -- we’ll give ‘em that.