There are countless deep-rooted cultural traditions revolving around death. One such cultural artifact is the memorial t-shirt. Memorial t-shirts honor a loved one who has died. They often feature an image of the deceased, along with the dates they were alive. It might also feature a memorial quote or saying.
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Memorial tees hold a unique place in American culture. For years they have predominantly appeared as a part of urban culture and southern Black culture. They rose to more widespread prominence in the nineties on the West Coast. When famous West Coast and East Coast rappers like Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. died, memorial tees made their way into pop culture.
To this day, memorial tees remain a popular way to pay tribute to someone, often from a marginalized community who has died too soon. Read on to learn more about some design concepts and sayings you might put on a memorial t-shirt of your own.
If you're interested in other unique ways to honor a loved one, you can consider a custom urn from a store like Foreverence or even have a memorial diamond made from ashes with a company like Eterneva.
Memorial T-Shirt Design Ideas
Memorial t-shirts often originate as sort of DIY memorial gifts. Memorial tees tend to be low-cost while still being highly customizable. This may be why they proliferate in areas that are economically depressed but still full of creativity. Any of these designs can be done by hand, or with the help of an affordable print shop.
They can be made at home with paint or iron-letters. But a shop that does silk-screening or other t-shirt printing techniques can help you put a more professional spin on a design.
1. Airbrushed memorial t-shirt
Perhaps the most iconic style of memorial t-shirt is an airbrushed one. In urban areas where graffiti and street art are prevalent, many people own airbrushing machines. They can use these to create custom hand-painted designs. These shirts are often brightly-colored and graphically eye-catching.
They may feature stylized portraits of the deceased. Writing is often done in a version of the classic bubble letter style of graffiti font. If you have artistic friends with airbrush techniques, they may be willing to help you with a t-shirt design. But some specialty shops will also make custom airbrushed memorial tees upon request.
2. Memorial shirt featuring silk-screened photo
As we discussed earlier, airbrushed memorial t-shirts tend to feature stylized portraits of a deceased loved one. Some people though may fear that their loved one might like too cartoony in this format. They prefer a more realistic visual tribute. In this case, you may opt for a memorial tee that features a silk-screened photo of the deceased.
You can select a favorite photo of your loved one that you think really exemplifies them as a person. Then figure out what words you’d like to put on the t-shirt to accompany the portrait. You can work with a local t-shirt printer on a design. There are also several websites that will help you design your own shirts. Just upload the image you’d like to use, and build a layout on their website. You can then have it printed on-demand and sent right to your door.
3. Memorial shirt featuring photo collage
If you sit down to design a memorial t-shirt with a silk-screened photo, you might find that you have a hard time narrowing down your selection. It’s hard to select just one photograph that really captures a person’s spirit and memory. In this instance, you could use a photo collage in a design. That allows you to include a few treasured photos of your late loved one.
This is also a great option if you’re designing a memorial t-shirt for multiple people to wear. If someone from a tight-knit social group or team dies, their friends might want to wear matching memorial tees. Everyone from the group can pick a favorite photo to be included in the photo collage. This gives everyone a sense of ownership of and connection to the design.
4. Family-themed memorial t-shirt
As mentioned above, sometimes groups of people want memorial t-shirts with similar designs. This is another variation on that theme. If a central family member dies, their relatives might want to get memorial t-shirts made in their honor. They may even all be able to agree on a favorite photo of the deceased. But they might want to individualize it by highlighting their relationship with the deceased.
If a family patriarch dies, his family members might get t-shirts that have a similar design. But the wording will have different variations, like “Beloved Father,” Beloved Husband,” or “Beloved Brother.” There will be unity in the color and picture and layout of the t-shirt design. But there will still be a custom element that celebrates the deceased’s unique role in the family unit.
5. Memorial shirt with wing motif
Many people who design memorial t-shirts might want to include references to their faith or the beliefs of the deceased. If you believe your loved one has moved onto heaven, you might opt for a memorial t-shirt that incorporates wings into the design.
This might include a set of wings on the back of the shirt. Or it might feature a heart on the front decorated with wings and a halo. This is a popular design element in memorial t-shirts.
6. Memorial t-shirt to raise awareness
Memorial t-shirts aren’t just designed to honor loved ones. Sometimes they are inspired by our deceased friends and family members in a different way. If someone you love died due to an illness, you might wear a memorial t-shirt specifically to raise awareness about that condition.
You can also use t-shirts to raise awareness about an organization or cause that meant a great deal to the deceased. This may be less overt than some of the designs above, but it is still very much a memorial t-shirt.
7. Memorial t-shirt to raise funds
Many memorial t-shirts are printed in the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s death. But sometimes they are printed for a special occasion. This could be for a family reunion, the deceased’s birthday, or the anniversary of a loved one’s death. Or it could be for a fundraiser in honor of the deceased.
Friends and family members can design t-shirts online for people to order. The money spent on the t-shirts would go to a charity in honor of the deceased. Or sometimes family members organize a fundraiser like a walkathon or a 5K to raise funds for an organization in memory of a loved one.
Funds are usually raised through an entry fee, and participants get a bag of goodies for participating. A t-shirt might be included in this bag that gives the details of the walkathon. This is another less overt version of a memorial tee.
Memorial T-Shirt Saying Ideas
Many memorial t-shirts feature a simple design. They almost invariably feature a picture of the deceased. It also usually features their name, and sometimes the dates of their birth and death. But people also sometimes like to include a short memorial saying as well.
This makes an already-custom t-shirt even more special. Here are some sayings you can incorporate:
8. In loving memory
This phrase makes it clear that the t-shirt you’re wearing is in memory of a deceased loved one. You can also check out this list of other ways to say ‘in loving memory’ if you want to add a more personal touch.
9. An angel got his/her/their wings
This message would work well for a design that works in a wing motif.
10. Forever in our hearts
As long as we remember our loved ones, they continue to live on in some way. Memorial t-shirts are one way we can ensure we’re keeping their memory alive. This message underscores that.
11. In honor of/in memory of
People have different preferences on whether they should use the phrase ‘in honor of’ vs. ‘in memory of.’ You can choose whichever one feels best to you.
12. Until we meet again
Many people believe they will be reunited with their loved ones in the afterlife. This message can serve as a comforting reminder.
If your loved one dies of an illness, you might want to honor their valiant fight. This one word conveys so much.
14. Rest in peace
Memorial t-shirts are sometimes referred to as RIP t-shirts, for good reason. This simple and classic phrase is often featured on them.
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Paying Tribute to a Deceased Loved One With a Memorial T-Shirt
Some people like to be more subtle in the ways they honor a deceased loved one. They might opt for an understated piece of memorial jewelry to remember someone who died. Others prefer to wear their heart on their sleeve, or even their chest. A memorial t-shirt is not a somber or muted tribute.
It is loud and proud, often drenched in bold letters and saturated colors. When someone dies, it can feel like your world gets a little darker. Memorial tees often bring an element of color and brightness back into your life. This makes them a great way to honor someone who made the world that much more vibrant in life.
Tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, closing accounts and other aspects of handling a loved one's unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.