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A Gentleman’s Guide to Graphic Tees

The graphic T-shirt is a staple for teen boys — but rarely do you see the male models in fashion magazines wearing t-shirts plastered with brightly colored images and text. Even for experienced fashion experts, it is difficult to elevate the look of a graphic tee; it is much simpler to style button-up shirts, polos and sweaters, which lack the association youth and immaturity and therefore automatically seem appropriate for a sophisticated, adult man’s wardrobe.

However, if you can’t imagine a closet without a few graphic tees, you need to learn how to style a t-shirt like a grown-up. Here are a few essential tips to wearing a graphic tee like a gentleman, so you can continue to dress to impress while keeping comfortable:

Reduce Your Graphic Tee Collection

While graphic tees might have been the only shirts in your wardrobe for your teens and early 20s, they should be in the minority if you want to dress like a gentleman. The first step to wearing graphic tees in a sophisticated way is to clean out your closet, eliminating all but a small handful of shirts with graphics.

Some men hold onto graphic shirts because of their sentimental value. Instead of allowing these meaningful graphic tees to take up valuable closet space, you could transform them into keepsakes by having them framed or made into other forms of décor, like quilts or duffel bags. All other graphic tees you decide you don’t need can be given to kids or friends, donated to charities or thrift stores or — if they are stained, torn or otherwise unusable — thrown away.

Choose Minimal, Museum-quality Graphics

There is no limit to the types of graphics that are printed onto men’s tees; over the course of your lifetime, you have likely accumulated branded tees, band tees, tees with famous characters, tees with funny sayings, sports team tees and more. Almost none of these graphics fit neatly into a sophisticated wardrobe. Instead, during the purge of your closet, you should keep only graphic tees that answer affirmatively to this simple question: Could the graphic on this t-shirt hang in a museum?

The best tees for your grown-up wardrobe feature minimal, abstract graphics that are all but indistinguishable from modern art. These simple graphic forms are less distracting and thus easier to integrate into a mature and sophisticated look. You might be able to get away with tees featuring art-level photography or illustration, and a band tee might work — as long as you are a fan of the musical artist on your shirt. When shopping for men’s graphic tees, you should keep these qualifications in mind to avoid cluttering your closet with immature graphics.

Balance Casual and Formal Clothing

The graphic tee is arguably the most casual clothing in existence, which means that integrating it into a refined gentleman’s wardrobe requires effort to balance it with more formal pieces. Most commonly, graphic tees are layered beneath stylish outerwear, like blazers or jackets, and paired with smart- or business-casual trousers, like wool pants. Generally, you want to allow a peak at the graphic on your t-shirt; otherwise, there is little reason to don a graphic tee over a plain tee. In almost all cases, denims are to be avoided by the fashion-conscious gentleman, and graphic tees should not be worn with jeans unless you are completing chores at home.

Consider Your Accessories Carefully

Accessories finalize the outfit. Even graphic tees should be carefully accessorized to ensure that the look is completed to your satisfaction. However, you want to avoid over-accessorizing while wearing a graphic tee; too many pieces of jewelry might shift your style into the realm of street fashion, which is admittedly a cool look but not usually the target for modern gentlemen. For the same reason, you might also avoid wearing overly bright or bold athletic shoes. Instead, a smart watch, leather sneakers or oxfords and a pair of simple sunglasses will effectively elevate your graphic tee with grace and style.

You are no longer a teen boy, but you can still wear a graphic tee every now and again while maintaining your grown-up aesthetic as long as you follow a few simple fashion rules.