“Those damn millennials,” as your 40-something neighbour would say.

Metal music genre communities have long sported their graphic t-shirt merch in support of their favourite metal bands and what not. People have gone to the extent of getting a tattoo of the band even.  The nature of the community itself is extreme, so you can’t really judge that way.

Coming back to the t-shirts, graphic ones were the reigning trend, with every music fan (pseudo or otherwise) in the 70s and the 80s sporting over-sized version for guys and cutout and ripped for the ladies. It was the foundation of a rebellious teen’s life back then. Add long hair and whiplash from all the headbanging, you’d be considered one of them.

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90s came and went without much of a sign of graphic tees because plain XL t-shirts were taking over on S bodies. The occasional “I’ve just returned from a holiday” graphic tee popped through the decade making zero difference to the trend. In India, technology was hard to come by since time was going slow and any form of international style  would reach us by at least 7 years late. But things started looking up by the end of the good ol’ 90s.

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2000s was the bleakest in terms of design rate but popularity wise, it was all over red carpets coupled with spiked hairstyles, internationally and locally. Ed Hardy’s experiment of making the graphic t-shirt the most popular kid in school was an effort with 50-50 results (actual statistics may vary). It worked for some people and didn’t for the rest.

Cut to today, the last few years in India have seen a rather upscale trend in the graphic t-shirt market. There have been individual online stores set up that are solely selling graphic t-shirts that don’t necessarily associate themselves with music, but with pop culture. Key examples would be Taylor Swift’s No It’s Becky and rapper A$AP Rocky wearing Kendall Jenner’s We Should All Be Feminists t-shirt. Brown Boy, Fighting Fame, Nought One by Abhishek Paatni and more online portals established mostly by millennials know their market too well. Hell, even established actors like Ayushmann Khurrana and Arjun Kapoor are wearing their stuff and it’s rare for celebrities to endorse a brand that isn’t a luxury label. The reason? Self-expression, and one of the best ways to do it is through what they know best: fashion.

Craig Ford is a director of menswear retailer and distribution company in Europe, who said that graphic t-shirts are an effective and inexpensive way for young people (millennials) to communicate with authority figures, be it politicians, teachers, friends or parents. It’s like sending a message. Ford added that the growing appetite for graphic T-shirts today isn’t a result of political angst or unrest among the demographic but rather a concise forms of expression in a visually driven culture.