Highsnobiety

Buying a souvenir while you’re traveling is a rite of passage. I’ve bought magnets, keychains, silly hats, and everything in between. But nothing beats a good novelty shirt, and there’s none more iconic than the “I Love NY” tee. 

Worn by many, loved by most, the signature logo is instantly recognizable and has been sported over the years by an array of personalities, from Jimmy Fallon to Addison Rae. It’s inspired droves of copycats and almost every city has its own interpretation (remember Bella Hadid’s “I Love Bahamas” baby tee?). 

Originally produced by the New York State Department of Commerce and designed by Milton Glaser pro bono, the slogan was first introduced in 1977 as an initiative to promote tourism (at a time when, unbelievably, the city actually needed it). The shirt was only ever intended to be around for a few months, yet, nearly 50 years later, it’s as ubiquitous as ever and deeply tied to the identity of the city itself. 

You can catch the “I Love NY” tee playing itself in hundreds of movies, including the underrated Olsen twins classic New York Minute (which should have been nominated for an Academy Award, if you ask this writer). It’s also made appearances in countless TV shows and series set in the Big Apple — Friends, Gossip Girl, and, notably, Sex and the City, where it was used as the name of an episode, to name just a few.

The logo, sans basic tee, eventually made its way from vendor stands to the realm of luxury fashion, where labels including Balenciaga and Vetements leveraged it to riff on the concept of the city souvenir. Vetements’ “I Love Paris Hilton” top retailed for just under $300 and caused a stir when it was initially released; it became a viral moment when it was worn by none other than singer and all-around icon Celine Dion. 

Another notable iteration is Raf Simons’ “NY” knit sweater, which became a sacred get for streetwear collectors after A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti wore it in 2017. It was later re-released, but with “RS” in place of NY. The top can still be found on Grailed for anywhere between $800 to $2,000.

No doubt rebooted by the same energy that has helped ’90s and Y2K fashion soar over the past year, the iconic tee has become a staple piece for Gen Z fashion enthusiasts. Just check the thousands of inspo pics across Pinterest and social media, and clock stars like Emma Chamberlain sporting “I Love NY” shirts like the grails they are. 

Recently, the arc of the famous shirt came full circle when an initiative to rebrand using the phrase “We Love NYC” instantly flopped. The “I Love NY” tee may have had humble beginnings, and something of a rocky ascent from tacky tourist dross, but the logo on a basic tee now enjoys the elevated status as a piece of the city itself — and a go-to for style icons. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

Regardless of whether you’d ever be caught dead in one, you can’t deny its longstanding and far-reaching appeal. That’s why we heart the “I Love NY” tee, forever. 

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