Creating a t-shirt design isn’t just about making a handful of sales. It’s about creating something people will recognise and buy for years to come. These 29 t-shirts have the most iconic designs in the world and have made a small fortune for their designers.
1. I love NY
Designed in 1977 to promote tourism, you can’t walk down a New York street without seeing someone wearing this design. Does a trip to New York even count if you don’t own one of these?
2. Mickey Mouse
The world’s richest (and oldest) mouse made his t-shirt debut back in the 40s when he was building his empire within Disney. Mickey is instantly recognisable and a money making machine.
3. Hard Rock Cafe
Hard Rock Cafe followed Pokemon’s ‘Collect them all’ motto with their t-shirts. They have 168 cafes across the world and a t-shirt for each one. There’s something for everyone.
4. Che Guevara
A leader in communism became a symbol of capitalism with this design. Worn by countless people across the world there’s no doubt that this is an iconic t-shirt (it’s a little unclear whether people get the irony of it, though).
5. Tuxedo Tee
This shirt is for when someone says “Smart Casual” and you get a little confused. All the benefits of a tuxedo with all the comfort of a t-shirt. It’s a win-win!
6. Harley Davidson
Harley-Davidsons aren’t just for Hell’s Angels. Every Harley lover can share their passion for the open road with these brand print t-shirts.
Nirvana took the classic “Have a nice day” smiley face from bumper stickers and made it their own with a rock-themed twist.
8. Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park was a masterpiece of filmmaking with robotic dinosaurs and men dressed as velociraptors. Taking that masterpiece to t-shirt design turned out to be a great decision.
9. Three Wolf Moon
This design became an internet sensation when an anonymous customer left a hilarious 5-star review. In the words of that customer: “This item has wolves on it which makes it intrinsically sweet and worth 5 stars by itself”.
10. I’m With Stupid
For decades, we’ve struggled with the knowledge that we’re with ‘stupid’ but haven’t been able to warn others from a distance. Well, that’s no longer an issue thanks to this famous design.
11. Frankie Say Relax
After the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood had their song ‘Relax’ banned by the BBC for being too explicit, Paul Morley printed these t-shirts in response. Of course, both the song and t-shirts became hugely popular.
This design gained its popularity during America's punk rock phase in the 70s. Luckily the phase (and the fashion sense) passed quickly, but these t-shirts still remain as a rebellious reminder.
13. Choose Life
This design was an early form of social messaging worn by Wham! on their “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” music video. It was designed by Katherine Hamnett to fight back against drug abuse and suicide in the 80s.
14. The Runaways
All-girl punk band The Runaways created these t-shirts for their world tour in 1977 and found they were a huge hit. These t-shirts are now valued at up to $7,500 EACH, so they’re clearly still desirable.
Shawn Stussy created these t-shirts to promote his line of custom-made surfboards and accidently created a hugely popular design. Now his t-shirts are a mainstream fashion item, proving that they’re timeless.
The music business has created a lot of iconic t-shirts and Metallica was no exception. Their design was popular with people who enjoyed Metal and has remained popular to this day.
Superman has been around for nearly 80 years and with DC rebooting their movie franchise, he’s going to be flying onto our TV screens for years to come. The Superman ‘S’ has cemented itself in pop culture (and our wardrobes).
18. ...All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt
The go-to t-shirt for tourists all over the world. With one of these in your closet, you can finally say “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt” and mean it.
19. Keep Calm and Carry On
Originally designed to motivate the British public during WWII, it has become a motto for the UK and the ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude we’re for.
20. Aerosmith Aeroforce One
Aerosmith was revitalised when Wayne’s World was released and we were treated to Garth’s stained and faded Aeroforce One tee. Of course, people decided to get (a slightly cleaner) version of their own.
21. Vote for Pedro
2004’s Napoleon Dynamite had a cult-like following however his ‘Vote for Pedro’ t-shirt was the real star. After the famous in film dance scene, this shirt solidified itself as a pop-culture icon.
22. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Turtles AND ninjas, what’s not to love? Children everywhere loved these radical 90s ninjas and t-shirt prints only helped to boost their popularity even more.
The Ramones were a hugely popular punk-rock band who used the American Presidential emblem as their symbol. These t-shirts are less punk-rock and more mainstream fashion today as they’re sold by big brands like Next.
24. The Godfather
Lots of movies make claims to success and gain huge followings, but no film has reached the level of The Godfather. This film is a true classic and single-handedly made the Mafia Crime genre popular.
Whether you watch Big Bang Theory or not you have to admit, it’s made its way into pop culture pretty effectively. Sheldon Cooper’s catchphrase ‘Bazinga!’ has become an iconic part of the show and looks pretty good on a tee.
26. David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane
This design featuring David Bowie in his famous Aladdin Sane makeup is truly iconic. Recognisable by countless people across the world, no list would be complete without it.
27. Smiley Face
In an effort to encourage people to smile more (and make some money) Franklin Loufrani registered the smiley-face design for commercial use. Since the rise of emojis, the smiley face t-shirt has gained incredible popularity.
28. Charlie Brown
Charlie Brown might not have had the best luck in life, but he did create a famous look for himself. His zigzag tee is instantly recognisable and one of the most iconic t-shirts out there.
29. Led Zeppelin
The band’s logo for their Swan Song record label was an instant hit with their fans. So when they decided to print it on t-shirts they made a small fortune (and a happy fanbase).
A lot of these iconic shirts are from bands, but you don’t HAVE to start a band to have an iconic design (who knows, though, it might help). Feeling inspired? Then why not check out our blog post on enhancing your designs - you’ll have an iconic t-shirt in no time. Go to our design builder to make t-shirt history.