I don’t think of myself as a particularly fashionable person. I’m completely out of the loop when it comes to “mainstream” fashion trends, and my knowledge of high fashion is limited to the supporting cast of Jojo Part 6. Even a lot of counter-culture fashion goes right over my head: I just don’t see the appeal.
But there’s one article of clothing I genuinely love: T-shirts! I have a closet and a dresser full of various tees in a rainbow of colors, all emblazoned with printed imagery. I’m never wanting for something nice to wear on my torso.
In the past couple decades, the image of a T-shirt as something cheap and lazy to toss on when you don’t want to wear your good or even your “business casual” clothes has begun to change, thanks in part to designers who have taken the idea of a printed image on a shirt to new artistic heights. It’s great for us nerdy types: there’s a wealth of tees out there that let us express our passions and interests to the world at large — and T-shirts are typically more affordable than most other types of fashion, which means we can enjoy them without breaking the bank too much.
There’s still one big problem though: A lot of nerdy T-shirts are terrible. And this goes doubly for gaming T-shirts. Many widely available gaming tees offer up a level of cringeyness that few other poorly-conceived tees can even hope to match.
I don’t think it’s possible to see this and not immediately want to punch the person wearing it
Several years ago, GamesRadar alum (and friend of the site) Henry Gilbert did an article highlighting some of the worst gaming shirts from that era, and Game Informer did a similar piece more recently.1 A lot of what’s written there is still very relevant: while the amount of shirts featuring an image of an NES cartridge with “Blow Me” text underneath has thankfully decreased significantly, you still see a lot of stuff at pop-culture stores like GameStop and Hot Topic committing similar design sins.
Look, guys! It’s a famous movie line and a dated game culture reference! HA!
Going off of those articles and other examples featured here, it’s easy to see what common factors feature into these terrible designs. Bad gaming T-shirts always suffer from some combination of one or more of the following:
- Ugliness – extremely poor layout, awful color choices, terrible art, or boatloads of text
- Embarrassing for you and/or the viewer – bad jokes, dull memes, tasteless sexual references
- Creative bankruptcy – memes, catchphrases, overuse of stock art, or just a bland logo/pose
Unfortunately, since these descriptors apply to the overwhelming majority of gaming shirts you’ll see readily available for purchase at your local mall, searching for something stylish to wear can quickly become an exercise in despair. Are so many of your fellow gamers so obnoxious and oblivious that they think that one “Videogames Ruined My Life” joke isn’t completely worn out?
I hate everything about this
The sad truth is, if you want good gaming T-shirts, it’ll take a bit more time and effort on your part to obtain them. But trust me: it’s worth it. You’ll find stuff that you’ll feel proud and excited to wear, that will never get old no matter how many times you see it, and will look good to both fellow nerds and non-nerds alike.
There have been a handful of boutique shirt manufacturers springing up in the past decade or so: Fangamer, Sanshee, Iam8Bit, and the Yetee all offer some fantastic designs. Some of these companies are a bit hit-or-miss with their catalog (Sanshee in particular), but the good stuff is really, really good. Many of these shirts not only look great, they help support cool gaming-inspired artists and indie developers, so you feel good buying them.
Certain subsets of the gaming community, particularly the fighting game community: Broken Tier and Eighty-Sixed both offer some really neat-looking stuff. Admittedly, some of it is stuff you wouldn’t want to wear outside of your local fighting game meetups, but there are also designs like this that catch the eye of everyone, gamer or no. Also, every so often a gaming-related tee might pop up on the likes of Threadless or another uber-hip shirt design site, so it’s not a bad idea to keep your eyes peeled outside of the gaming sphere. (On the topic of Threadless, this design’s a personal favorite.)
At the risk of being called an unrepentant weeaboo, however, I’m going to lay down a harsh truth: Japan really does make the best gaming shirts. There are Western-made tees that are certainly comparable, yes, but in terms of sheer consistency and quality of design, Japanese tees are the top of the line. Unfortunately, they tend to be both expensive and, in some cases, very hard to get — though the sheer act of obtaining and wearing them will make you feel as though your nerdery has ranked up significantly.
One of my fave Cospa tees. Simple color-wise, but leaves a strong impression
The best-known Japanese otaku fashion company is Cospa, and you can order their output through companies like AmiAmi, Hobby Search, and HLJ pretty easily. The shirts are rarely discounted, however, as they tend to sell out really, really fast once they’re available — either you preorder or you live to regret it. Remember, these are boutique items made for a niche audience: Japanese nerd fashion companies are very careful about overproducing. Cospa shirts range in price from about $29-60, depending on what kind of print you have: a full-color, all-over print will be significantly more expensive.
Cospa might be the best-known, but they’re not the only game in town: Mars Sixteen, Geek Life, King of Games, and Games Glorious all make some really fantastic gaming shirts. However, the small size of these companies, combined with limited audience for retrogame-inspired fashion (which is all officially licensed, I should note) means that stock is very limited in certain sizes. Perhaps more of an issue, though, is the cost: prices from these small boutiques tend to be $35-60 per shirt, putting them well out of impulse buy range. As much as I like this Shinobi design from Geek Life, the pricing makes me really hesitant to pick it up. I’ve got one Games Glorious shirt, and while it was expensive, I feel like it was worth it — and it was a very carefully considered purchase.
Indeed, the lack of international shipping is a headache for anyone who loves Japanese game fashion. Some stuff is only available at specific places and events, like the limited-edition clothing HEY arcade puts out. (I’ve called in many a favor to friends in Japan to get some of this stuff.) Mainstream clothing retailer Shimamura has done some great Sega and SNK related collaborations, but good luck getting any of that without a proxy.
It’s not all bad news for those looking for Japanese game style, though. Beloved Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo has frequent collaborations with game companies to produce exclusive tees, and now that they’ve expanded internationally, these shirts are now both readily available and very affordable to audiences outside of Japan. In fact, it was the recent UTGP collaboration with Nintendo that inspired this article: After picking up three really good shirts at the nearby Uniqlo last week, I felt inspired to talk about my love of great gaming tees.2 I highly recommend checking out the lineup: even if there’s not a store in your area, you should be able to easily order them online.
So, to sum things up: getting good gaming T-shirts can take a bit of effort. It can be time-consuming to hunt down good designs, and it can be expensive if you’re buying from Japan (and perhaps paying shipping and proxy fees on top). But it’s absolutely worth it — instead of being the annoying jerk in the “I banged the princess” shirt, you showcase your love for our favorite artistic medium with fashion that both looks great and feels great to wear.
Really, what self-respecting Megadriver wouldn’t be proud to show this off?