The History of the Humble T-Shirt

The very first mention of T-shirts appears to have been just prior to 1913, after the end of the American-Spanish war. The US Navy issued T-shirts to their sailors to be worn as underwear. These early precursors of the modern version of the shirt were long, so that they could be easily tucked into the trousers, and they had a crew neck. They became known as T-Shirts simply because of their shape.

Sometime later, the US army also started to issue T-shirts to be worn as an undergarment. It was workers, like dock workers and farmers, who first began to wear the garments as outer clothing, because the shirts were cheap, cool, and they were very easy to clean and care for.

The first time that the short-sleeved shirt started to be worn as general causal wear was shortly after the Second World War, when de-mobbed servicemen wore their military underwear shirts as an outer garment.

It wasn’t until the 1950s, though, that the T-shirt became really fashionable and most people give credit to Marlon Brando for that happening. When people saw Brando wearing a T-shirt in A Streetcar Named Desire, American teens caught on to the idea and it started to become a fashion statement. It still took quite some time after this before the garment became acceptable enough to be worn by adults.

The very first printed T-shirts are thought to have been produced with Disney Characters printed on them in the mid to late 1950s, and printed shirts didn’t lose their childish image until the 1960s and 1970s. It was then that the shirt began to be used as a form expression and the first protest and political messages appeared printed on the shirts.

During the course of the 1970s, T Shirt design became more elaborate and printed shirts with company logos, rock band motifs, book covers, and the iconic smiley face, appeared on the scene.

In the 1980s, bold slogans began to become popular and TV shows, like Miami Vice, proved that a T-shirt could look cool and smart if it was worn with designer gear, such as Armani suits. During the late 1980s, the designer brands, like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein got in on the act and they started to produce T-shirts with their own logos on.

The T-shirt certainly has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a practical piece of underwear for American servicemen. It’s been a garment for the working man, an expression of youthful rebellion, a fashion statement, and now, it’s the most widely worn items of clothing in the world.

Whether it’s a Stephen King Pennywise the clown T-shirt, or a collection of plain T-Shirts, there is barely a wardrobe in the world now that doesn’t have at least one T-shirt tucked away somewhere inside it.