Literary T-shirts: a spring roundup

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Snappy ‘Mad Men’-style suits and dresses aside, the T-shirt remains a wardrobe staple. And literary T-shirts are as interesting as just about any out there. For example, above we see two competing possible designs based on George Orwell’s ‘1984’ from fledgling literary T-shirt maker Kafka Cotton. The company is asking for you to vote for your choice, then it will include the winner in its stock. Their other T-shirt designs are inspired by Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch-22,’ Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ and ‘Moby Dick’ by Herman Melville. But the T-shirts below are from another company.

It seems like there isn’t a literary T-shirt company that doesn’t try to tackle the great white whale. Above, are two shirts from Out of Print Clothing, which licenses book jacket covers for their T-shirts. The name is something of a misnomer because most of the books remain in print -- many are classics -- although the designs are from vintage editions. Out of Print Clothing donates part of its profits to benefit literacy in Africa, and in another act of generosity, it prints its designs on cute girl-sized T-shirts as well as the big, boxy boy ones.


Novel-T creates old-style baseball jerseys for characters from classic novels and for the authors who wrote them. There are two ‘Moby Dick’ shirts -- one for Ahab and one for the whale. Edgar Allen Poe gets creepy number 13. All shirts are gray, and $1 from each sale is donated to the literacy nonprofit 826NYC. Baseball season starts this weekend. Just saying.

Founded in 2000, Literary Rags is one of the older literary T-shirt vendors you can find on the Internet. Its stock of philosophers, playwrights, poets, novelists and political scribes (such as the Founding Fathers) is at more than 100 and continues to grow. Almost all shirts are black with a white-printed image and name; this month, Jean-Paul Sartre is on sale for $14.99.

The crowd-sourced T-shirt design company Threadless occasionally features bookish tees, like the two above. Like everything else on Threadless, they sell out fast. Because independent artists submit T-shirt designs, there’s no way to predict when books will come back. But they’ll probably return.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credits: From top, Kafka Cotton, Out of Print Clothing, Novel-T, Literary Rags and Threadless