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A graphic t-shirt has become a wardrobe staple, especially over the past decade. Wearing a graphic t-shirt is a way to express ourselves without saying a word. But not all graphic tees are created equal. Below I share my tips for cool graphic tees for grown women: what types to look for, where to shop for graphic tees, and styling tips.
I originally wrote this post in 2020, but have updated it for 2023 with new places to shop for cool graphic t-shirts for women, updated style advice, and more.
How Should Graphic Tees for Grown Women Fit in 2023?
Over the past decade, there have been style rules on how t-shirts should fit. We've seen the return of baby tees, shrunken to be a second skin. We've seen t-shirts so large they can replace dresses. And we've seen everything in between. In 2023… fashion is fluid and everything goes.
Seriously. Everything goes. Do you like a trim t-shirt to tuck into jeans and slip under a blazer? Prefer a t-shirt several sizes larger than the rest of your closet to wear with leggings? Like to take a slightly oversized t-shirt and knot it at the waist or half-tuck into barrel jeans? Maybe you like to modify a t-shirt for a more feminine shape, create an off-the shoulder silhouette or crop it to a more comfortable length. Do it my friend, because it is totally cool do to all this and more in 2023.
Types of Graphic T-Shirts for Grown Women
Again, I believe wear what makes you happy. Confidence is the most stylish accessory any person can wear. But if you are looking for inspiration for stylish graphic t-shirts for women, these categories may help.
Your Heart on Your Sleeve
Whether it’s your political views or a social cause you care about, there’s likely a cool-looking shirt out there representing it. Even better, often these shirts donate a portion to a charity or organization that supports your views. Such shirts can be worn with your leggings to the gym or slipped under a blazer and tucked into jeans for a networking happy hour. To ensure such versatility, keep the color relatively neutral and the print clean and clear. Words and smaller graphics will get more mileage than a giant silkscreened pattern.
Your Life’s Motto
While I’m not big on “inspirational speaker” t-shirts (see below), there are plenty of graphic t-shirts that share a word or short phrase that may speak to who you are as a person, your style, or how you live your life. If you’re a Francophile you may enjoy a shirt with a French word on it (and you're lucky because I'm finding such shirts at almost every retailer); if you’re dedicated to your yoga practice you may like a shirt that says Namaste (there are plenty of great ones at Etsy). A big trend this season is graphic tees representing cities and states; everyone from Target to Neiman Marcus has options in a variety of colors and styles.
You’re with the Band (or the Book)
Graphic tees are a great way to show your great loves. A well-worn band tee shirt is eternally chic, tucked into a leather pencil skirt or paired with a pantsuit. A quote from your favorite book or author can look quite stylish in the right font on the right colored tee. When doing such shirts, be sure you are a true fan so the piece has lasts in your closet. I also recommend you focus on classics, not trendy of-the-moment memes or TV shows so you’re not turning that tee into a dusting rag by summer.
Some of my favorite places to find book-themed graphic t-shirts are Inkwell Threads and Out of Print. Rockmerch carries band t-shirts up to 2XL in womens cut and 5XL in unisex/mens cut. Old School Tees has all your favorite retro TV shows and brands with up to 4XL and tall graphic t-shirts.
You’re a Fan
Whether it’s Kenzo or Keith Haring, RBG or Reddit; a graphic tee is a way to show your love of a brand, a product, or a person. Your favorite work of art, museum, newspaper, or designer usually has a stylish quality t-shirt available that will look great peeking out from your blazer or moto jacket.
While I am not usually one to buy large logos and plaster them all over, fashion brand t-shirts can be quite stylish and cool looking. If you are a fan of a brand and can afford one of their t-shirts I see no reason why you shouldn’t elevate your t-shirt collection. Just be sure to baby it so it lasts (it may be a t-shirt but it’s not cheap) and don’t buy fakes (see below).
My tip for shopping designer t-shirts? Check resale sites. For example, I was able to score a Kenzo t-shirt for the price of one from J. Crew at Poshmark. Some folks rotate their closets pretty quickly; their discard may be the dream t-shirt you've always wanted for a much nicer price!
It’s a Cool Design
Not every graphic tee has to be a billboard for a product or a bumper sticker proclaiming your life’s motto. Sometimes a graphic t-shirt is great just because it has a cool design on it. In fact, in 2023 graphic t-shirts that are sans message or branding are more popular than ever. Some have a silkscreened design on the front, some incorporate the pattern all across the entire shirt, and some get creative having the graphic design flow from sleeve to front and maybe off the hem.
I have some t-shirts with word-free graphics on them that are decades old and still well-loved because such shirts are usually timeless. Also, graphic t-shirts look cool if they're a bit worn and weathered; a printed t-shirt can look quite chic even after years of wear.
Tips for Grown Women Buying Graphic Tees
- What are you saying? A t-shirt is a way to express yourself without saying a word; is your shirt properly representing you? Do you wish your first impression to be about tacos, Mondays, wine, or brunch? You’re better than that. Consider graphic t-shirts to be the equivalent of a bumper sticker on your car or a tagline on your business card. Keep the funny sayings about coffee, men, and guacamole costing extra to your coffee mugs and Instagram memes.
- Don’t be a motivational speaker. If you have a kid in your life under the age of 13, you’ve likely noticed the trend of “motivational speaker” t-shirts. It’s a welcome change from t-shirts advertising TV shows, candy, and brands and is a way to ingrain positive thoughts into peers and the shirt-wearers themselves. It makes sense for kids who are still learning about themselves and the world around them; to see shirts saying BE YOURSELF and DREAM HIGHER THAN THE STARS can motivate them and have them think and see things with a new perspective. As adults, we can motivate through our words and actions; unless such shirts coordinate with your job or project they can ring hollow.
- If you don’t know it, don’t wear it. If you can’t name a handful of songs by the band, don’t wear the t-shirt. If you don’t watch the TV show, don’t wear a quote from it. Graphic t-shirts are like billboards, they make a statement. Style comes from knowing yourself, and that includes knowing what you're wearing. Represent yourself accurately.
- Live in the present, not the past. I hate to break it to you, grown women, but we're at the age where what we loved as teens and young adults is cool again. And you know what that means… time to let (most) of it go. If a 14-year-old is running around town in a FRIENDS sweatshirt or a Nirvana t-shirt, it's not cool for you to be doing the same. However, there is an exception. If you're some badass who never stopped wearing that Nirvana shirt, if the look is something that is ingrained as part of your personal style already, I say rock it with pride. For example, I have a decades-old well worn Ramones t-shirt. I don't plan on retiring it just because you can find a similar one at Forever 21.
- Don’t buy dupes. Dupes is a term from the beauty community; this drugstore blush has the same color, sparkle, and pigment as this fancy department store brand. Dupes do not exist in fashion; they are fakes, they are counterfeit, and they not only screw over the originator but they also are usually made in worse factory situations. If you can’t afford a Gucci t-shirt, don’t wear a Gucci t-shirt. Fakes are never fashionable and the fashionable can smell a fake a mile away.
- Fabric matters. While that shirt on Etsy or Zazzle may have a great message, what kind of fabric is it made from? It’s hard to tell online as 100% cotton could be as stiff as cardboard or have a nice drape. Look at reviews, find sites that show the t-shirt on a model, read descriptions looking for descriptive words like drape, soft, stretch, float, and skim that allude to a softer fabric.
- Fit matters. There’s a difference between that stiff boxy t-shirt you got from participating in a fun run and the tees sold at department stores and boutiques. Look for tees that work with, not against your body. Slimmer fits, more relaxed silhouettes, styles that drape or have a bit of a fit and flare shape, sleeves that hit at a place on your arm that you like (usually having the end either above or below the widest part of your bust). These small details can make a big difference in how often you wear the shirt and how versatile it is with your wardrobe. If you find a boxy t-shirt you adore, here are my tips on how I alter the fit to better work with my shape, and none of these tips require a sewing machine!
- If in doubt, size up. Often, graphic tees will shrink a bit. It’s better to have your shirt a little loose than too tight. It will give you room to tuck and knot. Also, there’s nothing wrong with having a t-shirt tailored. Every garment in your wardrobe including your t-shirts can benefit from being customized to fit your unique shape!
- Step away from the mall and get to your computer. Graphic tees are such a great way to show your personality, do you really want the same t-shirt as everyone else? Etsy is one of my favorite places for unique t-shirts. Thrift stores are a great place to find band and art tees. Instagram is a great way to find new-to-you indie brands that make artsy or message tee shirts, and often these smaller companies donate a portion of proceeds to charities. I have a few suggestions below.
- Consider color. That hot pink t-shirt is beautiful… but does it go with your wardrobe? If it’s a bold and bright color it may not be as versatile. Or if your wardrobe is primarily neutrals you may find a hot pink t-shirt exactly what your closet needs to feel cohesive. Basic t-shirt colors can also be higher maintenance; black can fade, white can get dingy, or yellow under the arms. Just as I recommend with any other purchase, envision your graphic tee in three different outfits. Under a blazer with jeans, tucked into a skirt or pants, worn with leggings and a flannel or cardigan, half-tucked into shorts… you get the idea.
- Quality, not quantity. You’re a grown woman with a full life and a full closet. You don’t need an entire drawer full of t-shirts. If you have a lot of tees that have sentimental value, that’s fine. Box them up, turn them into a quilt, frame them in the home office, make them into pillows. But when clothes are in a drawer, not only do we wear them when we know they’re not the best, they prevent us from buying the best. If you love graphic tees you may have a handful of them, but that’s all you need. More, and you become the Graphic Tee Lady versus the woman in a cool shirt. It’s better to have one or two great fitting, quality shirts that stylishly represent you than a pile of cheesy, faded, or meh shirts that don’t do you or your style justice.
Some Great Sites for Great Graphic Tees
- Clare V. Trendy brands of graphic t-shirts come and go, but Clare V., the apparel brand by Clare Vivier remains stylish, especially in the closets of grown women. Often seen on celebrities, Clare V. t-shirts are text-heavy, and often in French. Great color combinations, cool collaborations that often give back, quality shirts, though the size range is limited (Clare V. only goes up to XXL).
- The Outrage: A DC-based woman-founded activist apparel shop and community space, The Outrage makes a donation to a progressive organization with every single purchase.
- District of Clothing: Founded in 2014, District of Clothing is a Black woman-founded DC-based company. While she carries many chic DC tees, she also has great shirts appropriate for people who live everywhere. Follow the size charts and if you're larger, look at her unisex options.
- Fanny Karst: Are you a badass woman proud of your age? Think aging is an art? that old is the new black? Then this is the shop for you!
- Prinkshop: Prinkshop creates products to raise awareness for and sustain social initiatives. Those 1973 t-shirts and hats that represent when Roe vs. Wade was ratified (AKA the shirt in the graphic at the top of this article)? Prinkshop. Prinkshop creates initiatives, fundraiser for causes, and much more. And I have shopped from Prinkshop and find the quality stellar; my 1973 shirt is several years old, has gone through the dryer, and still looks fresh.
- Shopbop: If you want a finger on the pulse of the Cool Girl brands and cool graphic t-shirts for the season, check out the selection at Shopbop. Shopbop does a great job of curating graphic t-shirts that are on trend without being too trendy or weird. Size range is limited (some brands will go up to XXL but most only go up to L or XL), but it's a good place to get an idea of the current graphic t-shirt trends. And my tip? Google the brand of the T-shirt, you may find that another site has a more extensive selection of styles from the brand and a more extensive size range.
- The Home T: Ever since the company started, The Home T has donated 10% of their profits to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and is specifically earmarked for research. I have one of their shirts, it's several years old, the silkscreening still rich, and the shirt is one of the softest I own. In fact, The Home T saw me on Instagram many years ago before I had many followers, heard about our family road trip and sent us three Maryland shirts for it, no strings attached.
- Museum shops: From The Whitney to The Met, art museums have in person and online shops full of very cool t-shirts and proceeds support the museum.
- UNIQLO: While many consider UNIQLO fast fashion, they do some phenomenal t-shirt collaborations. Whether you're into manga, Mickey Mouse, or modern artists you're likely to find a very cool shirt on their website.
Do I Need a Graphic T-Shirt in My Wardrobe?
No, you do not need a graphic t-shirt in your wardrobe. If the concept doesn't appeal to you, that's great! That means you are honing your personal style. You know what you like, and you know what you don't like. However, in 2023 graphic t-shirts have become far more creative. They're not all crewneck short-sleeved boxes with a silkscreened motto on the front. Graphic tees have become softer, more interesting in silhouette, less about messages and more about design.
If you swore off graphic t-shirts a couple of years ago, consider checking out the selection out now, especially at nicer department stores and your favorite women's apparel boutiques. You may be pleasantly surprised and find a graphic tee perfect for your fabulous self!
Do you have any suggestions on where to find great graphic tees for grown women? Do share them in the comments!