I recently re-watched an interview that Carson Daily conducted a few years ago with Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes. In this interview, McInnes alleged that the cutoff point for wearing band t-shirts was 30 years old. Upon further research, I found an older interview with Mr. McInnes where he claimed the cutoff point was 40. This got me thinking about the relationship between age and printed t-shirts—how old is too old? Some people, of course, will never be concerned about an age cutoff and some people will put entirely too much thought into it. I don’t necessarily agree with what much of Mr. McInnes said, but I do agree with his views on fashion as a whole when he says, “People who take it too seriously miss the point and people who ignore it miss the point.” So then, what is the point and where do graphic t-shirts fit in?
Nothing but a Number
Your age does not define you. You probably have more responsibilities at 35 than you did at 23, but the number itself is not what has changed you—your life experiences have made you into who you are. What works for someone at the age of 40 might be the same thing that works for someone else at the age of 55. T-shirts are functional and comfortable enough that there’s no definite age cutoff for wearing them, but what about specific kinds of t-shirts? At what age do we have to stop wearing our favorite Smashing Pumpkins shirt? When should we kiss our favorite “Kiss Me, I’m Irish!” shirt goodbye? When is it time to donate that old Big Dog Lord of the Rings Shirt to the Salvation Army? I think it completely depends on the person, their personality and their comfort level.
There are, of course, some stipulations. Take band shirts, for example. A 43 year old man wearing jeans, a leather jacket and a Judas Priest t-shirt is perfectly acceptable. On the other hand, a 33 year old man wearing a Weezer 1998 tour t-shirt in 2012 is going to make him look like he’s stuck in the past. A wardrobe full of shirts with funny slogans is going to work much better for a 20 year old than it is for a 35 year old. For both men and women, it’s less about how old they are and much more about how tasteful the shirt is. A 52 year old woman could easily pull off a Blondie Parallel Lines t-shirt if she wore it in a dignified manner. But what are the rules for dignity and t-shirts?
Mind Your Surrounding
More than the exact number of years you’ve been on this earth, pulling off a t-shirt is about the situation you’re in. A vintage Pepsi t-shirt might not be great for a night out on the town or dinner with the in-laws, but it might be perfect for working out at the gym or mowing the lawn. Common sense easily dictates which t-shirts are appropriate for which occasions, but rest assured that there are plenty of scenarios in which a t-shirt is perfectly acceptable.
There’s not much difference between a blank t-shirt and a t-shirt with an enjoyable graphic on it—both serve the exact same purpose. If a 29 year old woman wants to wear a Guinness t-shirt to the grocery store or to the movies, I think that’s just as reasonable as wearing a plain black t-shirt. There are t-shirts that are outlandish, of course, but what is actually outlandish depends on both the situation and the individual.
Who You Are
A graphic t-shirt should always fit your personality and fit where you are in life. A 32 year old graphic designer can easily pull off a shirt featuring a vintage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book cover, but it might not work so well for an economics professor. That’s entirely speculative, of course—only you know what fits your personality. The thing about that, though, is that people can easily tell when you’re uncomfortable with what you’re wearing or if you’re just wearing it to fit in.
Confidence and authenticity are the key components of pulling off a graphic t-shirt when you get past your 20s. If the t-shirt you’re wearing is just a relic from your teenage years then it’s going to look out of place, but if it represents something that you’re genuinely enthusiastic about and that is still a part of your life then you’re on the right track. That being said, there is a difference between your age and the age of the t-shirt that you’re wearing.
Know the Material
There’s a difference between classic and dated. There’s a difference between vintage and ancient. These are important distinctions to make. If the shirt is full of holes and its print has faded to illegibility, it’s time to let that shirt go. It might still be salvageable for any number of t-shirt recycling projects, but if it’s a roadmap of stains and rips then it’s time to let go.
It all goes back to that appropriateness and dignity thing. If someone notices how gross and beat up your t-shirt is instead of the cool graphic or logo that’s printed on it then things aren’t working correctly. If someone can look at your shirt and say, “Hey, that’s a cool vintage t-shirt! It’s in such good condition!” then everything is going just fine.
There’s no definite answer to “how old is too old?” when it comes to graphic t-shirts. Every single aspect of that answers depends on you as an individual. Your personality, your confidence level and the occasion you’re dressing for are the most important factors in deciding on what to wear. I think that in the right hands, a great graphic t-shirt never goes out of style.
Adam Farwell is a writer, blogger and designer. He generally blogs about design, fashion, marketing, small business branding and the various creative projects he’s involved in. He currently writes for funnyshirts.org, where you can customize and design your own funny shirts.