Book Fetish

Kitschy and Whimsical Bookish Shirts

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Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Do you want to update your wardrobe for the changing seasons? If you’re the bookish type, chances are you have one — or manyyyyy — reader-themed tees you wear out and about or as loungewear in your home. As we shift into warmer days in the northern hemisphere, it makes sense that a closet update might be in order, including some new bookish threads.

There are numerous great bookish shirts out there. But here’s a thing: many of them are also very similar. More and more Etsy stores have moved from hand made and hand created to more mass-produced items. There’s nothing wrong with getting your buck where you can, but a quick Etsy search + Canva image search + creator accounts linking Etsy to Printify mean it’s easier than ever for anyone to set up shop (one tell is the photos are styled the same and/or the models are the same across shops). Sometimes, those shops blend into one another, and finding truly unique bookish goods can be challenging.

So I took the challenge on. I dug through what’s out there to find some of the kitschiest and more whimsical bookish shirts. Yes, some of these might be produced with a little Canva magic, but they’re different enough to stand out and make other readers ask where you found such a gem.

In defining kitschy and whimsical, consider things that are funny or a little off beat or the kinds of things that evoke a weird nostalgia deep in your heart and belly. They’re the kinds of shirts you’d find in the thrift store and fall in love with for the weird or funny factor.

Let’s dive in.

Image of a white t-shirt styled like a 90s rock show shirt, featuring Edgar Allen Poe.

No one said there would not be puns here, so prepare for ’em. How about kicking off this roundup with an Edgar Allen Poe shirt, styled like a ’90s rock band tee, with a reference to Def Leppard? $30 and up, sizes up to 3XL, with tons of color options.

Image of an 80s style shirt featuring Mary Wollstonecraft.

Prefer a more ’80s vibe to your author tee? This shop has got you covered with so many fun author options. I love the Wollstonecraft one above, but you can choose from dozens of others. $32+, sizes up to 3XL, with options of black or navy.

Image of a white shirt featuring a cat reading a big book. It says "one more chapter."

This one gets me in my “I miss Scholastic Book Fair” feelings AND in my “nerdy is cool” feelings. Maybe it’s the desaturated color of the image? Maybe it’s the cat reading a book? I’m here for it, though. $30, up to size 2XL.

Image of a blue shirt with pixelated words that say "can't wait to get home and read," with a pixilated rose image.

I shared this in a YA newsletter and I can’t stop thinking about this shirt. I do not know what the rose has to do with the phrase “Can’t wait to get home and read,” but I love it. The description calls the font and image as printed cross stitch but I see vintage Nintendo-style pixelation. The collision of all these things makes this shirt stupidly fun. $29, sizes up to 3XL, with numerous color options.

Black t-shirt with "literary classifieds" featuring a kissing couple. It's a fake ad for books about fake dating.

This entire shop is incredible, but this one really knocks it out of the park. A book pretending to be a literary classified looking for a classic romance trope? Yes yes and some more yes. $44, up to size 2XL.

Image of a t-shirt featuring spooky horror--there are two witches kissing in front of a haunted house.

While we’re on the topic of romance, this shirt has two witches kissing in front of a haunted house and nothing else needs to be said. $24, up to size 4XL, with tons of color options.

Image of a rainbow unicorn with a stack of colorful books on a purple shirt

It’s a rainbow unicorn book shirt. Enough said. $29, color options galore, up to size 3XL.

Image of a person with light skin wearing a black shirt. It includes heart-shaped sunglasses and eyes behind them in pastel colors. The text sys "I'm cool because I read paperbacks."

Same, though. $22, sizes up to 2XL, in several color options.

Image of a white t-shirt. It has a car driving on top of an open book with the words "racing to the library."

Correct. $33, up to size 2XL, and you can choose either “natural” or “white” as the shirt color.

Image of a blue shirt. in the center is a half-human, half-bug creation with butterflies beside it. The text above reads "feeling Kafkaesque."

The description for this one calls it midcentury vintage style and I can buy that. But honestly, I am way into this interpretation of Gregor Samsa. $20+, sizes up to 3XL, with tons of color options.

Image of a dark blue t-shirt. It has the words "America finds it at Waldenbooks."

I absolutely saved the best for last. Remember that note about the nostalgia in your heart and belly? Who else deeply misses their trips to Waldenbooks? Because I do. $20, up to size 3XL, and note that as of writing, there is very limited stock.

Snap up some more bookish tees with this roundup of the best bookish tees. You can also show your indie bookstore pride, your library love, or style the young ones in your life in their own kids bookish shirts.