Have you ever wondered how the t-shirt came to be such an iconic staple in fashion and culture? Originally designed as an undergarment, the t-shirt has transformed into the most ubiquitous item in apparel — and the most powerful.
This is the story of how the simple t-shirt transforms the fashion world, creating its own industry in garment decorating and changes the way messages are shared forever
T-shirts as we know them today, are an apparel staple. The simple clothing item is so common and worn so often that it’s easy to forget that, relatively speaking, the t-shirt itself is quite young.
The origins of the t-shirt date back to the late 19th century, when laborers would cut their jumpsuits in half to keep cool in warmer months during the year.
The first manufactured t-shirt was invented between the Mexican-American War in 1898, and 1913 when the U.S. Navy began issuing them as standard undershirts.
Even then, it took until 1920 for the actual term “t-shirt” to be inducted into the English dictionary.
Though the t-shirt was created in the early 20th century, it was rare to see it worn as anything other than an undershirt. T-shirts were almost exclusively used underneath your “proper” clothes.
Then came Marlon Brando and James Dean.
In 1950, Marlon Brando famously donned a white t-shirt as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, only to be followed by James Dean in 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause. Thanks to these two founding fathers, the popularity of the t-shirt changed its course in history.
By the1950s a number of companies began experimenting with garment decoration, but the field was still far from what would later turn into a multi-billion industry of t-shirt printing.
In the 1950s a printing company in America held the license to print Walt Disney characters onto t-shirts and people began to realize the profit that was to be made in graphic t-shirts. Advances in t-shirt printing have led the way to huge popularity today.
It wasn’t until the ’70s that t-shirts became the powerful messaging platform that we know them as today. It;’s really thanks to the punk movement.
Rising popularity in rock band logos, along with protests of the Vietnam War, really helped solidify the t-shirt as a messaging platform.
The New York Times described the rise of the graphic t-shirt “the medium for the message.”
A ts-shirt starts life as a blank canvas and can be seen as high fashion or casual wear, disruptive or unassuming, all depending on how you wear it!
The t-shirt has become not only a clothing staple but an essential garment worn around the world. While it’s unique ability to convey a message won’t go anywhere.