I used to work for a local St. Louis
chain of specialty shops that sold, among other things, posters, waterbeds, and T-shirts. A good part of their T-shirt business was wholesale. They made a lot of shirts and baseball hats with the name and logo for quite a few of the local softball teams. After a stint that consisted of stocking lava lamps and black light posters, I was promoted to the T-shirt warehouse. The warehouse was on the third floor of the main store, which doubled as a storage space for all the stuff that the other stores didn’t want or couldn’t sell. One of our main accounts was for a local rock station called KSHE-95. The radio station’s mascot was a big pink pig that wore sunglasses and had what looked suspiciously like a joint protruding from his mouth. The shirts and other KSHE “stuff” was in great demand, as the radio station was one of the top rock stations in the country at the time. My job consisted of standing in front of a giant clothes press, the kind that you used to see in tailor shops, and melting an iron on patch with the KSHE pig logo onto the shirt. In a typical afternoon, I would crank out about 95 dozen of the things. If I messed one up, put the patch on crooked, or it didn’t stick, I got to buy the thing for a 50% discount. Needless to say, I had quite a few of them at home that I wish I’d have kept; as I understand that they are quite the collector’s items now.
As a fashion statement, T-shirts have always been in vogue since the 1950’s when Marlon Brando wore his wife beaters in the movie, “A Streetcar Named Desire.” In the sixties tye dyes were all the rage. Then the technology came along to cheaply transfer an image, any image, to a T-shirt. The first machines to do this were big, expensive-looking monsters that resembled a copy machine. You placed your image on the glass and it would print it on special paper that you could transfer to a shirt. T-shirt fads come and go, but like the bumper sticker, it may fade, but it never really goes away. Here are a few places to get a custom-made T-shirt in St. Louis, Missouri:
Want to tell everyone that you’re from South St. Louis? How about having the Gateway Arch printed on your thong? Or maybe the old stadium with the words “The Original Busch.” How about a T-shirt with a St. Louis favorite: “Gooey Buttercake,” or one that reads: “Highway Farty.” (The way that some folks from St. Louis pronounce Highway 40.) Then check out STL-Style. These sayings and many more are available on their web site; STL-Style.com. You can also get the shirts at Vintage Vinyl and Fifi’s, both on Delmar in the Loop. Started a few years ago by a couple of 28-year-old brothers, both from Creve Coeur, who liked to explore the underbelly of the city when they were younger, the company specializes in shirts that are unique to St. Louis. They describe St. Louis as “a red brick momma that has been overlooked, misjudged, and under appreciated.”
Accent On Graphics, (314) 631-8927, was founded in 1993 and now does business all over the country. In the beginning, they focused on custom illustration, murals, props, screen-printing, embroidery, and quality airbrushed T-shirts. They have recently added logo design and promotional items. This is the place to go when you want quality work and have the bucks to back it up. They feature sketched portraits by Missouri artist Gloria LeClere. You can also get tye dye apparel here.
A word about transfers and screen-printing: a transfer is just that; a special kind of ink on paper with glue backing that is transferred to the shirt by heat. This process is quick, easy, and inexpensive, but after a few washings, the transfers have a tendency to crack and eventually peel off of the shirt. Screen-printing is a process where a negative image is created on a screen, (originally silk, but now nylon is mostly used), then the ink is rolled or sprayed through the screen and onto the shirt, forming the image. The image is crisper and longer lasting because the ink goes directly into the cloth and doesn’t just sit on top of it.
AdVentures Screenprinting, (314) 727-9966, is a good medium range choice if you’re looking for quality work without the high cost of custom design. For 1-11 T-shirts they use the transfer process and if you order a dozen or more, they will screen-print them for you.
Or, if you are hungry, you can go to a place called the T-Shirt and Snack Shop at 6762 Page and get a snack while you wait for your shirt. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see some of the St. Louis peculiarities in the flesh there.