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.
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.
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.
100% cotton gets dropped on the front of the tag.
First Generation 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.
This new design stuck for quite a bit, yet the ™ only lasted a few years and was replaced with an ®.
1986 – 1992
® comes on and sticks for the remainder of the tag’s history.
Second Generation Front Tab Tag
To complement the neck tag, the fill inside the border was no longer present.
Third Generation Front Tab Tag
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.
Made in El Salvador appears on the tag.
A URL appears on the tag. The company is still in operation by the way.
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.
Examples From Ross’ Collection of Vintage Crazy Shirts Tees