Tee off with cheap T-shirts for spring

Cleveland Clothing Co. LeBron James T-shirtYou've been there: You hit the snooze button so many times that your alarm just turned off and the last thing on your mind is what to wear to class. Sure, you're in the home stretch of the spring semester, but don't let Senioritis creep into your wardrobe. You can keep your look comfortable and casual -- while remaining stylish -- with a creatively designed (and relatively inexpensive) T-shirt. So back away from that worn-down, university hoodie, and take control of your look with a few of these affordable options.

Keepin' it local by the lake

Nick Luedy designs Cleveland-centric themed T-shirts for Cleveland Clothing Co, his label. Despite topping the 2010 list of Forbes Most Miserable Cities, Clevelanders remain fiercely proud of their city and Luedy's design success reflects that enthusiasm. When Luedy founded CCC in early 2009, he admits he wasn't trying to cater to a college audience, but he soon noticed that many of fans were students. With 194 colleges and universities in Ohio, that's is not surprising.

"College students are always looking for reasonably priced gear to wear while they spend all their money on books, lodging and beer," Luedy says. "I've kept the cost of shirts to $20 a shirt and I've always used American Apparel." He jokes that the soft, AA shirts are "what these kids love these days." His tees focus on everything Cleveland from hometown sports hero Lebron James to local weatherman Dick Goddard. His design process is interactive for users. Once he generates an idea, he develops a shirt template that goes onto the store's Facebook page. He says, "If I receive a good amount of positive responses, I will go ahead and have it printed." Call it Cleveland pride in the hands of the fan.

Fashionable feminism

We've all seen those horribly offensive statement tees proudly announcing one's chauvinism. Lindsay Keating-Moore, through her store KM Stitchery, combats that bad imagery with a political line of her own: famous feminists. "Most images of women that we see, on T-shirts or just in the culture in general, are sexualized -- women are objectified," says Keating-Moore. "I think it's important to have images of women to fight this and I just thought it would be a great way to combat patriarchy in a positive way." Keating-Moore hand stencils her designs onto to T-shirts she finds at the thrift store. She says although used in the technical sense, they are basically overstock of new shirts donated to the thrift store. She also uses recycled materials for tags and business cards. Keating-Moore keeps a list of women to stencil and tries to add one new stencil per month. Look for designs of Kathleen Hanna, Emma Goldman and Simone De Beauvoir. And in case you need to brush up on your history, each design features a "Who's That Lady?" description. Current prices in her Etsy store begin as low as $15.

Putting the t in artist

If you're a designer with a fab shirt idea, you can win cash for your design. Uneetee picks a weekly design winner and posts the tee for pre-sale at $12 for a week. The winner receives $1,500 in cash while you receive a fresh shirt. If you sign up to become a member, you can buy a "Mystery Shirt" for only $7. They print designs on American Apparel tees and their catalog features other designs such as "Human Map" and "Traffic Jam." Threadless also offers opportunities for designers to win some cash for creations where the artist can snag $2,000. The selection process allows community members to vote and comment on tees they like, all of which is taken into account when picking the winner. If you're a wordsmith, you can also submit a slogan. Winners receive $500 if their words get printed. Their stock includes "Zombie at Tiffany's" and the college-appropriate "Forgot to Study."


So maybe you don't have the design skills to win a prize, but if you still want to customize a tee, Cafe Press allows you to upload your own artwork or create your own shirt with their online designer. Colors and sizes vary and there's no minimum purchase required. But, if you're pressed for time, you can get crafty with an old-school approach. For cost-effective supplies, take a plain T-shirt -- that you already own or buy at the thrift store -- and head to your local craft or fabric store for some puffy paints or a pack of fabric markers. You can eliminate the technology and create your tee by hand.

Clothes to Free, appearing Thursdays, is a weekly fashion-on-a-budget column by Money College blogger Alysse Dalessandro. Send Alysse column tips at MoneyCollege@walletpop.com.
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