This article monitors movements in design styles, garment-printing applications, types of wearables, and more.
By Ed Branigan
From tattoos to shirts
The iconography of the counterculture went mainstream almost as if it was born to. Body piercing and tattooing have become acceptable rites of passage for men and women. In men’s T-shirt graphics, the embellishment art mimicked tattoo art. The prints themselves, like tattoos, began to migrate all over the body (Figure 3). The front, back, and sleeve placements now began to include wrap, back top or bottom, front side top or bottom, and many others. Men wore their T-shirt prints like tattoos with the print on the shirt landing on the same part of the body as the actual tattoo. A good argument could be made that among some demographics the tattoo print on the T-shirt is worn in place of the tattoo on the body.
For men who grew up in the 1990s, a T-shirt imprinted with an original graphic is a fashionable garment that can, for the most part, be worn anywhere (black-tie occasions being a good exception). Even the print applications, like foils and rhinestones, that were once considered too feminine for menswear have made a huge crossover (Figure 4). Among young men in particular, oversized prints that include foil and another application, like a rhinestone or a stud, have been very prevalent for the last couple of years. Prints that are off-center or off-kilter are the norm (Figure 5), and foils and tattoo art have made an impression even among older men’s T-shirt graphics. It’s not unusual to see a dad in his 40s wearing a T-shirt with a graphic that’s only slightly less stylized than the one his son in his 20s is wearing.
Decorative elements and the notions of what types garments are acceptable to decorate have evolved. For the longest time, imprinted apparel meant T-shirts, sweatshirts, and sportswear. This covered a lot of different types of garments, from cotton jersey tees to 100% polyester or blended athletic garments to school uniforms. The graphical elements used on the sports or school garments are straightforward enough to detail school or team names and logos, sponsors, etc. Where T-shirts are concerned, there have always been more options available from a graphic standpoint, but printing outside of these garment guidelines wasn’t done. Who would have considered printing a graphic design on a dress shirt even if was going to be worn casually? Or a blazer for that matter?
That’s exactly what happened. In younger men in particular, the same street and tattoo graphics have moved out from the T-shirt to the dress shirt (Figure 6). Everywhere now the same street-art style is showing up on collared button shirts and with embellishments like flock and foil. This has been the trend for some time now, and who’s to say where it will go as these men get older.
The growth of direct-to-garment digital printing is a development worth noting in printed apparel. It’s changing the way that screen printers view printed-apparel applications. The movement of the prints themselves outward from the T-shirt to the shirt to the jacket also changes the way that screen printers view the same print applications. As long as the trend toward wearing designs continues in the vein that it is, it should lead to some very interesting innovations.
Ed Branigan is the print products applications manager for California-based International Coatings, engaging in product development, marketing support, and conducting workshops and seminars. He has spent 25 years in the screen and graphics printing industries both in Europe and the U.S. He has served as director of R&D for several large screen printing and merchandising companies on the West Coast.
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