The Cardin of T-Couture

(July 1978)

Move over, Yves and Diane and Pierre and Anne. In Cleveland, the Rolls-Royce of T-shirts sports the monogram of a long-haired, 28-year-old ex-hippie named Daffy Dan.

In the four years since he opened his first shop on Clifton Boulevard, Daffy Dan — better known to his mother as Daniel Roger Gray — has become Cleveland’s reigning T-shirt czar. There are now five Daffy Dan T-shirt palaces in the area (with four more planned), and last year they moved around 40,000 tees.

And not your basic white jobbie, either. At Daffy Dan’s, customers can create a one-of-a-kind T-shirt from a plethora of colors (black seems to sell best, followed by light blue), cuts and designs. Each store offers a mind-boggling selection of heat-transferred graphics to put on your chest — over 1,500 designs in all, ranging from pictures of rock, TV and movie stars to magazine logos, brand names, Maxwell Parrish-style fantasies, comic-book grotesques, hot rods, jelly beans, even women’s breasts (or some strategically placed surrogate). Currently pop singer Andy Gibb is the hottest transfer, having grabbed the lead from Darth Vader and, mercifully, Farrah Fawcett-Majors.

While the popularity of certain graphics may rise and fall with the Nielsen ratings, Daffy Dan believes novelty T-shirts are here to stay. “It’s not a fad,” he says. “Blue jeans and T-shirts have become the American way of life.”

And what could be more American than telling the world where to get off? It seems that the most consistently popular of Daffy Dan’s designs are those that incorporate just such a sentiment — be it smart-alecky (“I am a virgin ... this shirt is very old”), hostile (“Go to hell” in flowery calligraphy), self-deni-gratory (“Turkeys need love too”) or downright obscene (sorry, this is a family magazine).

If a customer can’t find a ready-made slogan to fit his mood, Daffy Dan will gladly print up any message the customer is brave enough to wear.

(Block type is 15 cents a letter; letting it all hang out in script, Greek lettering or rainbow-colored type can cost up to 50 cents a letter). Probably the most expensive T-shirt Daffy Dan has ever custom-made was for a man who wanted the word “lascivious” and all its synonyms printed on the front. English being the subtle language that it is, the final list was 26 words long, and the T-shirt cost the lewd, wanton, immoral, lustful, loose, lecherous, impure, unchaste, sensual, unclean, polluted, immodest, sadistic, carnal, masochistic, improper, adulterous, risqué, pornographic, nymphomaniacal, fleshly, gross, obscene, fornicative, incestuous, shameless guy 50 bucks.

Daffy Dan — his nickname dates from his high school days, when he was “plumb nuts” — also has straight accounts like Eaton Corporation and Stouffer’s, who have come to realize that company T-shirts are a cheap and effective form of advertising. But the preponderance of his customers come from the ranks of individualists and eccentrics “who want something a little different from what you can buy off the rack. They want a work of art.”

Like any artist proud of his work, Daffy Dan has taken to signing each T-shirt he sells. As his advertising slogan goes: “If your T-shirt doesn’t have a DD on the sleeve, it’s just underwear.”

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