Your shopping basket is empty!
The History Of The T-Shirt
Everyone has a t-shirt. Whether it’s an oversized t-shirt you wear in bed, a printed t-shirt with your favourite band logo on, or just a classic plain white t-shirt, it’s one of the most versatile items of clothing. We take them for granted as a normal part of life, something that has always been there. Amazingly though, they haven’t been around forever. They came onto the scene in the 1800s as military wear and have gone through a transformative journey to become a huge part of modern life.
The t-shirt is associated with the military, teen rebellion, fashion, and even rock and roll. It has dipped its toe into so many parts of modern culture that you could even call it an icon in itself.
Here’s a brief history of the t-shirt and its journey from military to mainstream.
A Brief History
T-shirts first came around sometime in the 1800s. In the USA, workers and military men wore them as undergarments. They would keep you warmer than a vest but without having to wear something too heavy to work in.
Then, around 1910, the US Navy began giving out white cotton shirts as part of their uniforms. They were still worn underneath the main uniform but were now part of standard US Navy uniform.
Lightweight, breathable t-shirts were starting to be seen on university campuses, with students preferring them to heavy shirts in the hot weather. This trend was also becoming common with works on farms, in mines and on construction sites around the USA.
This meant that the t-shirt was becoming accepted as normal outerwear. Believe it or not, before this time, it wouldn’t have been socially acceptable to wear a t-shirt without anything else. In the 1940s and 50s, Hollywood actors like Marlon Brando and James Dean brought the white t-shirt to the mainstream. It quickly became fashionable to wear a white t-shirt.
In the 1960s, companies started printing slogans on t-shirts, again adding to the fashion craze. Students would be seen with political statements on their t-shirts and music fans would have their favourite band emblazoned on their t-shirt. Bruce Springsteen wore a classic white t-shirt which showed he was an everyman, an image that fits perfectly with his lyrics.
By the time the 1980s rolled around, everyone was wearing t-shirts. It had become a staple of any wardrobe and could even be seen on the catwalk – Chanel unveiled a signature pink tweed jacket over a plain white t-shirt. This fashionable acceptance of the t-shirt gave it a level of endorsement that made it even more popular. Punks were cutting them off at the midriff, you could buy them at any rock concert, and you could get pretty much anything printed on a t-shirt.
In the 1990s the classic white tee was the staple of the grunge style. Worn with an open flannel shirt over the top, musicians like Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder made the style a huge hit with skaters and other subcultures.
Now, over 2 billion t-shirts are sold every year. Think about that next time you pull a t-shirt over your head!