The Fashion Trend Turning Men’s T-Shirts On Their Head

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The Fashion Trend Turning Men’s T-Shirts On Their Head

T-shirts have been a staple of the modern man’s wardrobe for the better part of a century now… but the return of one iconic trend could be set to change this look for good.

Little has been able to unite the plain white tee devotees and the plain black tee mafia like the seemingly unstoppable rise of the graphic tee. However, the rise of a new trend within the world of graphic tees has now divided opinion even further amongst the fashion savvy…

While many more traditional men’s ateliers like The Essential Man rail against the graphic tee on principle — deeming it to generally be a wardrobe nightmare, save for a few specific circumstances and highbrow designs — younger generations, including the sartorially infamous Gen Z, have taken the graphic tee and run with it, all the way to Paris Fashion Week 2023.

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However, one specific deviation of the graphic tee has recently caught our eye. Namely, this is the apparent shift of graphics from the front of the tee — a trend that has dominated the niche for the past twenty years or so — to the back of the tee in a seeming revival of 80s skater trends.

Perhaps one of the most notorious and iconic examples of this oldschool trend were the skate-centric designs of Powell Peralta, one of which you can see pictured below, emblazoned with a graphic across the back of the tee that is characteristically gothic and street-inspired in equal measure.

A classic 1980s Powell Peralta back-graphic design. Image: Etsy

After years of front-graphic dominance, it now seems that contemporary designers are harking back (no pun intended) to this trend of old. You only need to take a look at some of these new design drops from Casablanca or from By Johnny to see that both in the luxury and premium corners of the menswear market, back graphics are all the rage.

Why Have Back Graphics Returned?

But this begs an obvious question: why is this the case? Why has a decades-old trend in a once-unloved corner of the menswear market come to seemingly dominate current trends, both in high fashion celebrity circles and for the so-called man on the street?

My answers to this question are somewhat speculative but rooted in wider industry trends. First, I think the (re)emergence of layering as a central aesthetic for Generation Z, particularly a baggy, oversized skater-style, enables the rise of the back graphic.

How? When you wear a T-shirt in a more traditional way — as your bottom layer is worn directly next to the skin — you’re then much more likely to wear a zip-up hoodie, jacket or even blazer over the top of it. If that’s the case, a back graphic immediately becomes invisible and redundant, whereas a front graphic can still be spied through the outer layer.

One of Casablanca’s new tees features a charming back graphic. Image: Casablanca

Whereas, if you instead have a long-sleeved tee or sweater as your bottom layer before draping a baggy tee over the top, a back graphic can seen without restriction. As Generation Z has brought this style of layering back to the fashion forefront, back graphics have unsurprisingly returned with it.

Second, fashion is becoming increasingly unisex as traditional gender barriers are collapsed and redrawn. In this context, the back graphic has an added advantage over the front graphic: front graphics can look very different on men compared to women given the “topographical” differences in the shapes of their shoulders and chest.

As such, it becomes more challenging for designers to create unisex products with large graphics on the front panel and guarantee the consistent appearance of said graphics. With the back panel of a tee, you face far fewer of these issues thanks to the more uniform shape of the back regardless of gender identity.

As I said earlier, these reasons are only speculative, and if any designers or fashion insiders have any more prescient insights on the topic, my inbox is always open.