Back when only bikers, sailors and circus freaks had tattoos, kids could exhibit their countercultural zeal and longing to be different like everyone else by donning a tee-shirt emblazoned with a garishly colored, usually rudely humorous decal. Along the boardwalks of the Jersey shore there were several shops dedicated to selling cotton tee-shirts with a huge selection of iron-on decals tacked to the walls. The customer would pick a shirt according to color or size and have the decal ironed to the shirt while they waited. Sometimes it would be a long wait depending on how crowded the shop was, but that amount of time was nothing compared to the amount of time trawling the walls looking for the artwork that was just right. It was a celebration of that particular summer down the shore, and you had to find something that none of other kids would have!
Fortunately, for people who grew up in that era, the tee-shirts lasted nowhere near as long as a tattoo would have and were relatively painless. They were a moment’s impulse that lasted until the shirt was outgrown or the decal started to peel after several machine washings. I’d hate to think that I would still have R2-D2 and C3P0 on my chest from the summer of 1977.
The ad for iron-on decals appeared in the back of Eerie #66 published by Warren in 1975.
The decals may have only been a dollar, but good luck with having Mom or your sister iron them on to a tee-shirt for you. The hand iron never got hot enough to properly transfer the art. The big flat heat presses at the shops along the boardwalk did a great job. The attempts at home with a typical steam iron usually ended in disappointment or disaster.