The Sloganed Tee is Dead, Long Live the Sloganed Tee

The other day, I was sipping coffee with my boyfriend at a sidewalk cafe, when we saw a strange-looking woman walking toward us. Beneath her odd hat and her grocery bags full of unfamiliar things, we caught a glimpse of her t-shirt. It read "Happy Halloween."

She and I stared at each other. I nodded in appreciation. "That is the greatest thing ever," I whispered to my boyfriend. He looked at me like I was the crazy one, but I absolutely loved the total randomness of a Halloween tee in late summer. It gave me the same sort of pleasurable shock as a really great neon haircolor or a pair of masculine loafers on a girl. Sure, the shirt made her look insane, but there's something great — and rare — about the unexpected.

The interaction got me thinking about my personal collection of sloganed tees and how I never wear them anymore. Don't get me wrong: I have some good ones. I still bemoan giving away a certain American Eagle tee that read "Mrs. Brightside" (a nod to The Killers' 2003 single). It was lame at the time, but it would be so cool today! And I love my Crazy Frog t-shirt (of 2005 infamy) that I found in the boys' section of Target — it reads "The Most Annoying Thing in the World," and I wear it when I'm feeling particularly charming.

But is it possible to truly pull off a sloganed tee anymore? They've become so vulgar and ubiquitous that it's hard to imagine looking suave in anything with text on the chest. For a sloganed tee to work, it has to be cool. Really cool. But how?

1. It must be classily controversial. Did you hear about the recent French sweatshirt drama? The brand Le Léon produced a cashmere sweatshirt that read "Chômeur," which translates to "unemployed." Since France's unemployment rate is rising, people weren't too happy about the slogan, and the sweatshirt was quickly pulled from the store.

Perhaps I'm alone in this, but I thought the sweatshirt was kind of awesome, and I scoured eBay (unsuccessfully) to find it. It's edgy, but not tasteless. It's a conversation piece. You can't find the "Chômeur" sweatshirt anymore, but look for text that opens eyes and ruffles a few feathers. Just don't try to ruin anyone's day with a really tasteless slogan — like these icky tees.

2. It must be unexpected. Just like my Halloween-wearing BFF demonstrated with her t-shirt, you want your shirt to surprise and inform people, not to rehash something they already know. We don't need to see clever quips about cats or statements like "Eat more kale!" This is the time for campaign-trail t-shirts in favor of the losing presidential candidate. This is the time for that Uncle Eddie Turns 50!!! gem. I have a family reunion t-shirt that's full of puns, dates, and displays my name on the sleeve. Nobody ever sees it coming.

3. It can be ironic, but not too ironic. We live in a post-post-post-modern society, my friends. Nobody has time for in-your-face irony anymore. I don't want to see your "Marriage was her idea" shirt. You know what I would like to see? One of those "90% Angel" shirts that were so popular in the '90s, paired an otherwise structured, modern get-up. It shows you've got a sense of humor, a slightly ironic knowledge of pop culture, and a little bit of a hoarder tendency. Cool.

3. It must be (fairly) unique to you. This is where thrift stores come in. I may have bashed Urban Outfitters in the past, but they do have a knack for clever graphic tees. Although I can appreciate the cool shtick of "Too Many Crooks in the Kitchen" or "Witch Don't Kill My Vibe," I would never buy one. Because as cool as your sloganed tee many look at home, it looses all its charm when the girl next to you is wearing the exact same joke.

Image: Otota DANA on flickr