I <3 NY: The Original Graphic Tee

‘Other places always make me sad, no other city ever made me glad… except New York’ – Madonna


What comes to mind when you think of New York? Is it Alicia Keys describing it as a concrete jungle, or perhaps the backdrop of one of your favorite TV shows? While there are plenty of examples one could mention, it’s likely that the slogan ‘I <3 NY’ also springs to mind. The slogan, which was born out of New York’s desperate need for a PR shift in the 70s, is undoubtedly deeply ingrained in the public consciousness today.


Following the rebrand from I <3 NY to we <3 NYC, and the subsequent outrage, it would appear as though there was a cultural reassessment of the importance of the slogan in both fashion and society. Although “I Love NY” may have started out as a simple drawing on the back of a napkin, now it is so much bigger than that. It is evidence of the effective relationship between marketing and fashion and shows the long lasting popularity of New York City. But how was this message diffused throughout the US and the rest of the world? Through the “I Love NY” t-shirt.

Today, wearing t-shirts showing your affinity for a particular city seems like a common practice, just look at the overwhelming number of people wearing Brazil tops this summer. However, the journey of the ‘I Love NY’ shirt and the graphic tee can be traced back to the 1970s. This era was defined by identity and self-expression through clothing, making the 70s a transformative period for fashion. Whether you wanted to express your disdain towards the Vietnam war, or demonstrate your love for a particular band, the 70s were the era to do so. At a time when New York City was grappling with economic challenges and its public perception at an all-time low, the government recognised the urgent need to convey a positive message about New York to the general public. And thus, the ‘I Love NY’ campaign was born.

The marketing campaign achieved unprecedented levels of success, ultimately catapulting the logo into the cultural zeitgeist. The “I Love NY” logo was not only found on billboards; it adorned taxis, souvenirs, and even had its own jingle. This concerted effort sparked a tourism renaissance in the city, shifting the general perception of New York from a place once considered as the playground for the Son of Sam to an alluring tourist haven, with endless avenues for entertainment. Although the social consequences of this drastic transformation remain a topic of debate, the campaign ultimately cultivated a manufactured sense of pride for New York City. The “I Love NY” logo became a global emblem. In fact, its success was so influential that even if you had never set foot in the city, the logo’s ubiquitous presence left you yearning to claim a connection.


The popularity of the “I Love NY” logo experienced a second wave of popularity following events of 9/11. In the aftermath of the attacks, the logo reached new heights of popularity. Not only did it play a crucial role in aiding the economic recovery of the city, but it also served as a symbol of solidarity. The logo was performing its original role of cultivating a profound love for the city, but it also demonstrated the unifying power of fashion. By wearing the shirt, you align yourself with a collective love and support for the city. What’s more, Milton Glaser, created a modified version as a heartfelt expression of support for the city in its time of need.

From tragedy emerged an omnipresent quality for the logo.  Both the sentiment of “I Love NY” and the logo itself became impossible to escape in the 2000s. The shirt was seen on the likes of Chandler Bing, as well as both Mary Kate and Ashley in ‘New York Minute,’ not to mention the reality TV gold ‘I Love New York’ starring Tiffany ‘New York’ Pollard. And who could forget the pop music masterpiece ‘I Love New York’ by Madonna, where she eloquently expressed her love for the city, making it clear that loving New York didn’t make her ‘feel like a dork’.

Perhaps, the real question is why. Why do people want to wear shirts proclaiming their love for something, and why are these shirts so popular? A social critique could be made between the relationship of clothing and uniformity, however that is a conversation for another day. Ultimately, I suppose it comes down to one thing: simplicity. Slogans like ‘I Love NY’ or ‘Dump Him,’ famously worn by Britney Spears in the 2000s, are easy to understand. They often transcend language barriers. By wearing a graphic tee with such a slogan, you can express yourself without having to say a word. However, the simple response of ‘I don’t know… I like it’ seems to be justification enough as well. 


If the legacy and success of I <3 NY shirts prove anything, it shows how society loves an effective marketing campaign – I guess you can say that nothing has changed considering the success of the Barbie Movie. While the rebrand from I <3 NY to We <3 NYC may be sad for many, considering how memorable the I <3 NY logo is, I doubt any of us will ever forget it 

Joelle Bello @joelle.bello