With almost every campus group and organization boasting its own distinctive slogan this fall, the typical T-shirt at Yale makes more than just a fashion statement.
From the classy — Saybrook’s regal griffins — to the downright kinky — the polo team’s “We ride hard and put them away wet,” it seems the first step to a club or team gaining legitimacy on campus is the creation of a distinctive shirt. The urge for recognition has students stretching their creative talents to come up with a bolder, cleverer, more creative T-shirt than the next club.
In the drive to make the best T-shirt, design can sometimes assume a competitive form. George Burkhard ’05 organizes an annual competition among students in the physics department that challenges students to come up with creative shirts. The only criteria is that the shirts have the words “Yale” and “physics” somewhere on them.
The most recent winner had an obscure physics joke on the front: “Delta I J, it’s all or nothing.” On the back was the phrase “Co-Ed Naked Physics, getting physical since 1971.” Maggie Whittlin ’05 and Dave Reiman ’05 co-designed the shirt and split the $100 prize. Burkhard said the judges try to find a balance of cleverness and taste when choosing the winner.
“Generally we like to have somewhat clever and funny things on the shirt,” Burkhard said, “and tasteful, too.”
The birth of a great T-shirt begins with a design, created by of one or two of the organization’s most artistically savvy members. Sometimes using computer software, and sometimes just a pen and paper, the students lay down the design and then send it to a company such as American Stitch and Print or Custom Tees Plus to produce the shirts. The process is sometimes subsidized by a Master’s Office or other branch of the administration and sometimes paid for through the students’ own fund raising.
Some organizations tend toward the wacky. The Branford IM shirts, with the slogan “Where the grass is green and the squirrels are pretty,” have students doing double-takes. Jason Fischer ’06, a Branford IM secretary, described the shirts as having a “bizarre freakish-looking flying squirrel.” Squirrels have a long history in Branford, Fischer said.
“The squirrels routinely jump in the windows at Branford, so we thought we would incorporate that this year,” he said.
The shirts’ designer, Will Tsui ’08, had a slightly different explanation.
“I wanted to be slightly comical, because Branford is notoriously bad at IMs, and I thought what a great mascot the squirrel is to represent how Branford feels about IMs,” Tsui said. “Squirrels aren’t really great at anything, in my opinion.”
Branford’s neighbor Saybrook took a more traditional approach to their IM shirts. Maren Ludwig ’05 designed Saybrook’s intramural team shirts for this year. Ludwig opted for a clean and simple design, primarily featuring Saybrook’s name and its mascot, the griffin.
From year to year, the shirts generally feature some variation of the Saybrook coats of arms, which Ludwig said Saybrugians take pride in.
“We think that we have a pretty cool seal, so we generally use it,” Ludwig said.
A cappella groups are also well-known known for putting a lot of thought into their shirts. The New Blue designed two shirts this year, in addition to making shirts out of tank tops and puff paint during the summer. This year, New Blue member Whitney Seibel ’06 designed one of the shirts which displays the silhouette of a woman with the New Blue logo on her shoulder. The woman, whom the New Blue women call “Leila,” stands next to the phrase “Yale’s oldest women’s a cappella group” written in Seibel’s handwriting.
“It was really fun making them,” Seibel said.
Seibel also said the shirts had other uses such as campus publicity and concert attire.
Another a cappella group, Mixed Company, created shirts with male and female bathroom sign figures on the front, along with the words “Doing it co-ed.” One of the three designers, Mark Dunn ’07, said the shirts were particularly important during rush, when the group needs to have what Dunn called a “consistent aesthetic” to appeal to a wide audience of potential new members.
“Appearance is very important during rush,” Dunn said. “We want to have a good image and say something positive about the group.”
Programs to welcome freshmen also generate interesting tees. Many colleges design shirts for their upperclassman moving helpers to wear on the day freshmen arrive. Priscilla Adams ’06 designed shirts for the “Stiles Super Sibs” this year. Adams was in Germany over the summer, and enlisted the aid of a German friend with graphic designs skills. The bright yellow shirts have a Stiles Sibs logo on the front; the back features a moose pulling a sleigh full of boxes. Adams said she wanted the shirts to attract attention and that the main purpose of the shirts was to show that the students wearing them were there to help.