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Crazy Shirts: Coconuts, Cats, and Coolness

History of Crazy Shirts T-Shirt tag


Crazy Shirts: Coconuts, Cats, and Coolness

The standard lore is that Crazy Shirts began in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1964; reached its apex in the 70s and 80s; and was on the verge of being gone forever by 2001. But there’s more. A lot more.

This is a story with all the craggy and crooked madness of any true Southern California sartorial snapshot, a t-shirt tale told with twists and tumbles.  The main owner, Rick Ralston, had the seeds of the idea when he was a lad in Montebello, grabbing a can of spray paint and throwing a fresh coat and a quirky design over a plain old white tee. Soon enough he and his buddy (known affectionately as “Crazy A”) were painting designs on beach towels and honing their craft on the hunk of rock smack dab in the beautiful Pacific known as Catalina. If you’ve read Island of the Blue Dolphins (which was actually set on nearby San Nicolas island but that’s beside the point) you get the vibes.

Tourists were soon bringing the kid’s blank tees on Descanso Beach. Rick and “Crazy A” kept spray painting them with images of swaggy aliens, muscled-out hot rods, maniacal monsters, and such. After a few more sun-bleached Catalina summers and a short stint in art school, Rick took his show on the road once more and began hawking his wares in Waikiki under the tiki roofs of the International Marketplace. His growing popularity led him from one thing to the next and soon Ricky’s Crazy Shirts had fully embraced screen-printing and pumping out one-of-a-kind tees soaked in positive aloha vibes.

One of the most notable collaborations that Crazy Shirts ever embarked on was a partnership with cat artist extraordinaire, B. Kliban. Along with the ever-imitated and bootlegged HAWAII 79 shirts (insert any year thereafter actually), B. Kliban’s crazy shirts remain the most iconic graphics associated with Crazy Shirts.

By 2001, the company had changed hands and gone through a period of bankruptcy, breaking through and bouncing back to a new posterity with many stores across the US and hundreds of different designs. One uniquely Crazy Shirts technology has been to dye the tees in a variety of substances: money, coffee, chocolate, beer, and hemp.

The notable Crazy Shirts tag has morphed through the ages and remains one of the most lovely and recognizable fonts in the biz.


First generation Crazy Shirts Tag Waikiki hand screened

These are the earliest versions we’ve been able to find. While the company may have been making tees in 1964 – chances are they didn’t start with their own tag. Initially, they may have used another blank, then started manufacturing their own t-shirts. More research on this is required though. Interestingly, it says Waikiki instead of Hawaii on the one above. What’s also interesting is that most Crazy Shirts tags have a raw neckline where the tag is attached, whereas this one has fabric over top – it wasn’t until the 2000s that CS did this again.

stedman hi cru crazy shirts hawaii t-shirt tag


Crazy Shirts tag 1971 - 1972 100% cotton

The tag with “100% cotton” above the Crazy Shirts logo seems to be the second tag, they were used throughout the 70s, and concurrently with the tag below.

Crazy shirts tag 1973 - 1983

crazy shirts t-shirt tag 1975

100% cotton gets dropped on the front of the tag.

First Generation Front Tab Tag

first generation crazy shirts front tab tag

One of the unique things about Crazy Shirts is the additional tag along the lower front seam. These slowly made their way onto the tees in the mid-1970s, from what we can gather, 1975, and 1976. By 1980 they were mostly standard.


crazy shirts tag 1984 and 1985 new design with no fill in the border with TM

This new design stuck for quite a bit, yet the ™ only lasted a few years and was replaced with an ®.

1986 – 1992

® icon is added to the crazy t-shirt tag in 1986

® comes on and sticks for the remainder of the tag’s history.

Second Generation Front Tab Tag

second generation tab tag on front with no fill

To complement the neck tag, the fill inside the border was no longer present.

Third Generation Front Tab Tag

third gen streamlined tab tag - one line, no border.

The design on this tab was streamlined, the border was dropped, and its usage seems to predate the main tag dropping the border on its design. So you’ll find early 1990s tees with one of these, yet still have the more traditional main tag in the neckline.


At this point, Crazy Shirts dropped the border around the logo on the neckline tag. As with all of these timelines, keep in mind, that it wasn’t a clear break to the new tag, plenty of the previous versions were still floating around. That said, circa 1993 seems to be the year where this new streamlined logo made its first appearance.

1993 crazy shirts tag with no border


2000s made in el salvador t-shirt tag

Made in El Salvador appears on the tag.
2000s web url crazy shirts tag

A URL appears on the tag. The company is still in operation by the way.

2003 hawaii '64 t-shirt tag el salvador

and sadly, in the 2000s era, the company dropped the fabric tab along the front hem and eventually went the way of a printed logo on the sleeve.

crazy shirts hawaii '64 arm print

Examples From Ross’ Collection of Vintage Crazy Shirts Tees

vintage 1972 ski hawaii crazy shirts t-shirt vintage 1972 hawaii sunset sailing boat crazy shirts t-shirt vintage 1973 california surfer surfing t-shirt crazy shirts vintage 1975 you turkey crazy shirts t-shirt vintage 1976 tennis menace t-shirt crazy shirts vintage 1977 slow but mellow turtle t-shirt crazy shirts vintage 1977 crazy shirts armchair athlete t-shirt vintage 1979 body surf hawaii t-shirt crazy shirts

vintage 1980 crazy shirts hawaii sailing t-shirt

vintage 1982 hawaii t-shirt crazy shirts

vintage 1970s and 80s b. kliban cats crazy shirts t-shirt

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Runner, reader, thrifter, writer.

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Jimmy founded Defunkd in 2004 when he started selling vintage t-shirts online. 20 years of experience later and he hasn't looked back since. Actually, he looks back all the time given he's a sucker for nostalgia. For more, check the history of Defunkd and Jimmy's Expertise.

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