It’s a fact that I’ve spent way too much money on wrestling shirts over the years. My wardrobe is quite literally full to the brim with predominantly black tees, some of which will never fit me again but I will never have the heart to throw away. They make up a timeline of my wrestling fandom, a collection of iconography from across the many eras that I’ve witnessed. I’m proud to wear my wrestling shirts, I live for that moment when two like-minded individuals cross paths and give that subtle nod of respect when they spot one of many iconic wrestling shirts.
Whether it be simple white text over black or a vibrant design that helps a wrestler’s merch stand out in a crowd of thousands, wrestling designers have gone above and beyond to create unique brands for fans to pour money into for the sake of building a collective. Shirts can sometimes be the turning point in creating a movement, it’s a way of communicating to the big-wigs that the audience are willing to accept this performer as their new hero/heroine. As more and more of a certain shirt pops up in a crowd, chances are more creative opportunities will start coming their way.
In this piece, we’re going to run down the 10 most iconic wrestling shirts of all time, those that have produced a paradigm shift in the world of wrestling, whether that be getting that certain superstar over or merchandise that has transcended other medias.
Make sure you drop your own favourite wrestling shirts down in the comments below, maybe even a selfie or two of you representing your go-to superstars’ merch?
10. The New Day – Unicorns and Rainbows
The New Day changed everything in 2015. As the trio rose through the ranks of the tag division, they brought with them a new attitude and mindset when it comes to making wrestling fun once again. With that came a series of new, colourful shirts that sold millions on WWE Shop. Even though some of them were a little hit or miss, there was one in particular that perfectly embodied the moment when WWE decided to let them run riot with their unicorns and cereal boxes.
Having all three members of The New Day drawn in pastel, riding a buck-toothed unicorn over a rainbow was something incredible. It very much stood out among the bland, black tees that would often make up the majority of a wrestling crowd. Suddenly, the audience were becoming a lot more colourful and having a lot more fun as The New Day gained more and more traction.
There’s no surprise that WWE doubled down on New Day merch and put together new shirts on almost a weekly basis. Eventually this led to the equally iconic Booty-O’s line and helped them through to their numerous tag title reigns as well as Kofi Kingston’s WWE Championship victory at WrestleMania 35. New Day merch might be slowly declining as the years go on, but there’s no doubting that their merch created a new vibe amongst wrestling audiences across the world.
9. E C F’N W
Even though wrestling historians cite ECW as one of the biggest influences of the Attitude Era, I still personally think that they don’t get enough credit. ECW was more than just a wrestling promotion, it became a mindset. Wrestling fans made it their mission to turn the mainstream into something more ‘hardcore’ and that’s exactly what they achieved, mostly thanks to the movement that was created by their distinctive line of shirts.
The iconic E C F’N W tee can still be seen today dotted around venues, whether that be in its original form or inspiring a certain performer’s shirt design. The whole idea of the ‘FN’ shirt is somewhat immature by today’s standards, but it still holds the same principle of ‘this is not your typical wrestling shirt from your typical wrestling promotion’.
This shirt was so in your face that it forced wrestling to adopt a more uncensored attitude, not only at the dawn of the Attitude Era but also during TNA’s attempt at reviving the niche in the 2010s. I’m sure it won’t be long before we see an AE F’N W shirt hit the market.
8. Chris Jericho – WCW Monday Jericho
There haven’t been a great many tees for Chris Jericho, despite him always being relatively near the top of the card, but when he did manage to get one released on the market, they sold. Just look at his latest hit in AEW. The ‘little bit of the bubbly’ shirt sold in droves, almost as much as his iconic WCW Monday Jericho shirt did back in the 90s.
Prior to debuting for WWE in 1999, Jericho started a grassroots movement on Nitro, breaking out of the Cruiserweight division and riding the wave of his popularity through to the main event scene. It wasn’t long before Jericho was considered a highlight of their weekly TV show, so there’s no surprise that he personally labelled the show ‘Monday Jericho’.
It even got to a point where his shirt rivalled the presence of the nWo, a brand that we’ll come to in a little while. Jericho was taking over WCW and the wrestling world, there was no bigger statement of that fact than the shirt he proudly wore.
7. CM Punk – Best in the World
There was no more significant movement in the PG Era than CM Punk’s. Punk’s brash attitude shined through a smarter audience that proudly wore his ‘Best in the World’ tee to every event going, it was more than just a confirmation of your allegiance to ‘The Second City Saint’, it spoke volumes about you as a wrestling fan — you were more in on the scene than the rest.
Fans today still sport this fine shirt to wrestling events, it truly is something special. It’s bold and arrogant, just like Punk. It was very much a piece of merch that helped define an era and the first widely-bought shirt that gave John Cena’s many colourful variants a run for their money. Watching back any of the pay-per-views from Money in the Bank 2011 onwards, chances are you’d spot at least a hundred of these shirts within the first few crowd shots. It was the turn of a tide, a time where the spotlight was put back on pro wrestling as opposed to sports entertainment, all thanks to Punk and his bright-white tee.
Now that CM Punk is digging his heels back into the world of WWE as part of Backstage, there’s no reason for them to start churning out more of these shirts and making another cool million or three. Fans love sticking it to WWE in a way that suggests they’re above them, so what better way for WWE to exploit this than by re-releasing this particular shirt?
6. Becky Lynch – The Man
Speaking of movements, is there a better shirt to talk about next than Becky Lynch’s simple yet game-changing garment? ‘The Man’ became bigger than I think anyone could have predicted, as the world championed feminism at the heart of all social progress, Becky Lynch was used as the shining example for how a woman can prosper in the world of pro wrestling.
Not that Becky was the first to prove this, but she was certainly the first to take over the world through her brand of merchandise. ‘The Man’ shirts appeared everywhere, being worn by wrestling fans of all genders to truly break that boundary. There was no denying Becky’s emergence as a shining star of the main event scene, so of course she was put into the position to close out WrestleMania 35 in the first-ever women’s ‘Mania main event.
Even though ‘The Man’ is now becoming ‘The Mom’ (that shirt is involved in a totally different discussion), her legacy will live on through the shirts that I’m sure won’t be dying a death anytime soon. This shirt represented a changing of the guard, an organic rise to prominence perpetuated by powerful female athletes and for that, both Becky and WWE should be very proud.
5. Bullet Club
The shirt that changed everything on the independent scene. We’ve seen many iterations of the Bullet Club shirt, but quite possibly the most iconic shirt of the last half-decade would be the OG black and white merch donned by the likes of AJ Styles, Finn Balor, Kenny Omega & Adam Cole throughout their respective tenures in NJPW’s premier gaijin faction.
It’s become somewhat of a joke to spot the token Bullet Club shirts in WWE crowds, but it goes to show just how far of a reach the once unassuming faction has. Even though things have kind of simmered down for the Bullet Club, now under the leadership of Jay White, the stable still holds enough of a stranglehold over the wrestling world to warrant them being some of the biggest stars in the industry today.
Of course the original Bullet Club shirt has been modified and adapted to suit the individual wrestlers within it. In fact, I personally prefer Marty Scurll’s Villain Club shirt to that of the original skull and shotguns. Regardless, the Bullet Club shirt stands for a huge progression for New Japan and the independent scene as a whole. Without the work of the rogue foreigners, we wouldn’t have AEW and chances are the indies wouldn’t be as lucrative of a place as it is now.
Wrestlers owe a lot to the BC, they proved that all it takes is one shirt to make a fine payday.
4. Cactus Jack
I think it’s safe to say that ‘The Hardcore Legend’ has quite the unique fashion sense, the guy wore Christmas-wear all year round one time. Despite this, Mick Foley always seemed to be on the mark with his range of t-shirts. An argument could be made for all three faces of Foley to hold one of the most iconic wrestling shirts, with Mankind’s Have a Nice Day and Dude Love’s tye die both becoming synonymous with the Attitude Era, but there was none more definitive than Cactus Jack’s Wanted tee.
Having become somewhat of a rare commodity in today’s wrestling world, Cactus Jack’s black and yellow shirt appeared sporadically through his time in Japan, ECW and of course WWE. The T-shirt held that “in your face” factor that a lot of hardcore icons sported, something which represented their characters perfectly giving the impression that you weren’t watching your everyday grappler.
Not only was it pretty badass for him to be considered on the national wanted list, but it turned Cactus Jack into a gimmick that even Vince McMahon turned his head towards. Jack was more than just an extreme spot monkey, he was someone that could connect with the modern audiences that Vince was pining after.
3. Randy Savage – Macho Man
Somewhat of an understated classic from WWE’s Golden Era, Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage was one of WWE’s most colourful babyface stars throughout the 1980s and early 90s, naturally bringing with him a vibrant range of equally colourful shirts. Even if you weren’t around to own one yourself, chances are you recognise the purple and black ‘Macho Man’ shirt that often crops up in a crowd almost three decades after release.
WWE were onto something special with their early merchandise, with this particular shirt, Roddy Piper’s Hot Rod shirt and the next entry being some of the most iconic shirts of all time. Savage’s shirt was a must have: it personified Savage, it stood out and made sure that purple was forever considered a macho colour.
If you don’t burst into a room shouting “ooooohhh yeah” at the top of your voice while slipping into a slim jim, you don’t deserve this shirt.
Naturally, the most popular wrestling star of all time ripped apart thousands of the most popular wrestling shirts of all time. The Hulkamania shirt sold like hot cakes: every wrestling fan needed their own Hogan swag, making his red and yellow tee one of the most iconic to ever hit the merch stands.
Even I own my own Hulkamania shirt and I barely consider myself a Hogan fan. It just feels right that every wrestling fan should have one of their own Hogan tees stashed away somewhere, mostly because I’ve known people who aren’t even into wrestling to sport a Hulk tee every now and then, so I felt obliged to buy one.
Despite WWE trying their best to distance themselves from Hogan’s legacy during the more controversial times in his career, they’ll never undo the massive success of the Hulkamania tee. Much like the Randy Savage purple tee, it’s hard not to spot one being worn in a crowd of modern fans. Audience members of all ages occasionally feel the need to say some prayers and eat some vitamins, praise be to the man that built the biz as we know it.
The slogan that helped sell millions of t-shirts worldwide and the one that has inspired spin-offs from many different performers from various medias, Austin 3:16 was undoubtedly the most iconic wrestling shirt of all time.
Steve Austin might not have realised at the time that saying the words “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass” would make him so much money, let alone take the wrestling industry into a whole new phase of its existence. But lo and behold, those simple words spawned a following that all wore the same black and white tee to show undying love for ‘The Rattlesnake’ during his rise to prominence.
Steve Austin’s rebellious attitude was perfectly captured with this defiant shirt. It was a simple design but it spoke volumes of the collective mindset of the audience. It was a finger to Vince McMahon, to corporations and to society, it was the blue collar rising up with a voice of their own. You might think I’m overthinking this slightly but this genuinely was a movement of its own during the late-90s.
Still today, wrestling companies are exploiting the popularity of the Austin 3:16 shirt. Austin himself regularly sports the throwback tee whenever he happens to show up for a contracted cameo on RAW, WWE churn out as many custom versions of the shirt as they can (with Sheamus’ 5:15 being one of the most successful sequels) and other TV and sports personalities might even be seen wearing a shirt that mimics the sentiment perfectly.
You’d be hard-going to find a wrestling show that doesn’t have a fan wearing an Austin 3:16 shirt. Whether that be mainstream or independent, Austin 3:16 continues to remain a stand-out product in amongst the crowds. Yes, he was that big of a deal.
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