Nerdy Tees

Nerdy Tees:

A Short Guide by a Geek-Shirt Aficionado

By: Patrick Aghajanian

calvin and hobbes and star wars

Patrick sporting a Calvin and Hobbes + Star Wars tee

In the pantheon of geek apparel, screened tees would definitely have to be right there on top next to patches, hats and cosplay. In the past few years, tees have become kind of an obsession of mine, as have jackets and prints….but those are for another time.

There are many things that define a good screened tee for me, the first is the quality of the material used to make the shirt. If the thing becomes a starch rag after the first wash, then I’m done with that brand. The second is how relative it is to me. For example:  it’s no secret that I’m a ginormous Star Wars fan, so anything Star Wars related is a definite plus. The third is how clever the shirt is along with the artistic quality of said shirt. I’ve reached the point that a simple “May the force be with you” or the Batman symbol just does not cut it anymore. Many of my shirts mash up different nerd obsessions, like my Super Mario/Jurassic Park shirt….I thought it was well done. The final thing that I look for in a shirt is the cost. Most of these shirts I end up buying are between $10 – $15, but sometimes I’ll spring for something a little bit more expensive if it draws me in.

Alright, so with that said, let’s break down the different kinds of places you can get your shirt on.

Chain Stores:

First, there’s the chain store in the mall. Your Hot Topics, Urban Outfitters, and what have you. These places basically license the product and they’re a dime a dozen. I haven’t wasted my time with them since I was in high school. You may find the occasional gem, but I think you’ll find that most of the art on the shirts isn’t all that great and they’re just trying to make a massive profit on nostalgia. Granted every company is going to want to make a profit off of you, but it’s like these guys aren’t even trying and then they mark up the shirts. Which, by the way, are also usually not of the best quality.

Nerd Community Stores:

Then you have companies that specifically target the nerd communities. They sell their shirts on their websites, then they travel to cons and sell shirts there. These kinds of places are pretty hit and miss (for example ThinkGeek, Café Press, BustedTees, SnorgTees). They are followed by their slightly higher quality and higher priced brother, threadless. I love threadless shirts; their tees are stylish, high quality, and have innovative designs. But at $25 a pop, they can get quite pricey; instead, look for the occasional sale or groupon codes, and you’ll have yourselves some mighty fine shirts.

Spiderman Tees from threadless

Spider-Man Tees from threadless

Muppet Tees from threadless

Muppet Tees from threadless

Bat and Robin from SnorgTees

Bat and Robin from SnorgTees

Shirt-a-Day Sites:

The last category (and honestly where I do most of my shirt shopping) is the online, 1-shirt-a-day websites. Sites like  Woot, teefury, and Ript Apparel receive submissions from artists online and then go through a voting process to see which shirts get made. These shirts are then usually up for a total of one day, in which you have to buy it or it’s gone forever*. I find these shirts more appealing since they are made for geeks, by geeks. The artists make what they like, which consequently ends up being what I like. There is an upside and a downside to the one-shirt-a-day thing though. The downside is that you usually only have 24 hours to decide whether or not you want a shirt. I’ve spent a lot of time convincing myself whether or not I really need another shirt. One must become really picky, or else they’ll end up with more shirts than they have closet space for (e.g. me). The upside is that the likelihood that someone else will have that same shirt as you drastically decreases. (That always makes me feel good.) Also, it’s probably worth noting that many of these sites have fit options (i.e. ladies and guys fitted shirts).

"Girblot" tee from Ript Apparel

“Girblot” tee from Ript Apparel

Con-Solo from Shirt.Woot

Con-Solo from Shirt.Woot

*Often many of these websites will either have a re-sale of a shirt from days past; a mystery shirt day, where they give you a random shirt from their stock pile; or they will (like woot has been doing) sell old shirts for an increased price. There are also site like Redbubble, which accumulate a lot of hard to find designs at a markup.

*Bonus!! 50 HIT COMBO OMG!!!*

Bonus Category: Clothing companies that get the rights to trademarks and then make limited-edition shirts. They can then stylize the clothing to match their brands. Marc Ecko and their Star Wars shirts are a great example.

Ecko + Star Wars

Ecko + Star Wars

Here are some of the websites to help you find the perfect nerdy tee: (though they do more limited edition prints than anything now-a-days) (this will give you an aggregate of many of the daily sites)

Daily shirt sites: (actually has 2 different sections)

About the Author: As an LA native, Patrick went to undergrad at UCLA and is currently finishing his PhD in Developmental Biology. He is a lifelong nerd and loves animation, sci-fi, comics, video-games, and Disney (he has an annual pay to Disneyland). He was also the president of Engima: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, and Gaming club at UCLA. He is of Armenian descent and can speak it. He was also featured as Have You Nerd’s Nerd Guy of the Month.