History of T-shirts

Most people say that we cannot appreciate a thing well without taking a step backwards to look for the story behind its creation. In this lengthy article, allow me to jump from couple shirts topic to the rich history of t-shirts. Even before the word T-shirt became an official word in Webster’s dictionary way back in the 1920’s, it has already made a name in the textile and fashion industry for a long period of time. T-shirts are first worn as underwear. It continued to perform it utilitarian role until the “long johns” had its heyday in the late 19th century. “Long Johns” are knitted one-piece clothing which covers the whole body. This union suit spans from neck down to wrists and further down to the ankles. Later designs feature a flap opening in the back so that it would be relatively easy to wear.


When innovation in clothing was introduced and production of cotton soared, contemporary shirts started dawning. They saw an alternative design to the increasingly popular knitted union shirt. This paved way to the shift from the once difficult-to-cut-and-sew style of shirt to a shirt comfortably made from cotton. People don’t have the hint that this change will further open an all-new avenue for the t-shaped style of shirt and upper-half of the once popular long johns. And not just that, they were clueless that this piece of clothing is destined to change the cultures of fashion and further an instrument for expression and change.


Shirt With Face of Henry T. FordThe t-shaped template of shirts started in Europe. It was considered a half-pair of long johns that was cut in two ways and stitched together to form as a single suit. Soon enough, Henry T. Ford opened a product line and from then on short-sleeved shirts come to surface. Unknown to millions of people during that time, the short-sleeved design is set to change the fashion and styles of the coming generations.


During the onslaught of World War one, US soldiers somehow envied the soldiers of Europe when the t-shirts were issued as their standard uniforms. During that time, American soldiers were being issued with woolen uniforms which were deemed disadvantageous enough each time they undertake military exercises. Many really suggested about wearing light cotton t-shirts because to them, it would give a tactical military advantage to the troops as they can quickly move as they like if they wear light shirts.


Air Corps Gunnery School by Life MagazineT-shirt was then issued to the US Army and the US Navy as standard underwear during World War Two. While the intention was to use them as underwear, soldiers find the use of shirts without covers more comfortable during military exercises and construction works. American soldiers were really happy to see how their government replicated the standard uniform of its European allies. In 1932, a cover photo of Life Magazine featured an American soldier wearing a t-shirt with a clear imprinted text saying “Air Corps Gunnery School” and this gave way to the mass production of shirts for the civilian population of America.


I Like Ike T-shirtImmediately after World War 2 was over, t-shirts were used as outer garments. In 1932, the movie “The Wizard of Oz” printed the first promotional movie shirt and the shirt’s success was quite as promising as the movie. Promotional shirts then started to get popular and it even expanded to the interesting turf of politics. New York Times then took notice of the innovative and unique marketing strategy employed by Thomas E. Dewey in his gubernatorial campaign in 1948. It was then repeated in during the presidential campaign of Dwight D. Eisenhower when the “I Like Ike” t-shirts gained an unparalleled fame.


Sherry Manufacturing Company, a Miami based screen print scarf company, quickly shifted its direction to T-shirt printing. It then became the largest apparel producer for screen print t-shirts. Soon enough, celebrities like Marlon Brando appeared on the television with perfectly tailored jeans and t-shirt to show off his body. In Brando’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” play, audience appreciated his physique more with his shirt on. Later, James Dean’s classic movie “Rebel Without A Cause” has given way for the rebellious medium of expression illustrated on t-shirts to come into surface.


Che Guevara T-shirtVariations of T-shirt designs caved in during the 60’s immediately after the more durable and more stretchable “plastisol ink” was invented in the year 1959. T-shirt design experimentation expanded from printing to dying. While tank top shirts, ringer t-shirts, a-shirts, scoop and v-neck t-shirts came to the picture, people began to dye and screen print cotton t-shirts. During this time, Alberto “Korda” Diaz’s portrait of Che Guevara was popularly printed on hundreds of thousands of shirts all across of the globe. T-shirt printing is really instrumental in making Che Guevara’s image the most reproduced image in photography’s rich history.


Tie Dye T-shirtsRight before punk-style t-shirts made its name for rock-n-rollers, the so-called band t-shirt also became popular. The hippie culture in the West Coast is more attracted on buying tie-dye-t-shirts. In fact, thousands of dollars are generated in revenue during concerts and music festival for band t-shirts alone. The punk-style t-shirt printing merely constitute as an expansion of the band t-shirts. Although both reveals grungy appearance, both punk style shirts and band shirts still made its way up to the modern designs that we see today. This only proves that the rebellious history of t-shirts has successfully traversed generations.


In the 80’s and 90’s, T-shirts have been classified as one of the most famous commodity items in the apparel and fashion industry. It was deemed as the most comfortable piece of clothing and one which can be used in many different occasions. During this period, designer clothing brands begin to make a huge mark in the clothing industry. While Slogan t-shirts and promotional t-shirts resurfaced during this time, people however made a shift and became more inclined on buying t-shirts with prominent brand names rather than having one to express their own individuality.


Today, t-shirts popularity continues to soar sky-high. More than ever, people are now concerned on self expression rather than with brand names. This has caused a major backlash in being so conformed to brand names as before. People are departing from being loyal to a brand and now pick clothes which suits with their political beliefs and aspirations, sense of style or humor, and those which reflects how they are as a person in the society. The technical advances in the clothing industry have made people expand and enhance their choices as to colors, prints and styles. While some are trying to design their own tees, more and more people are more inclined with artworks of graphic designers and illustrators. This has made printing artists become more recognized than ever and has made the printing industry so promising. Contemporary designs of the industry that we have this time do not reflect just the style statement alone but it also help people stand for what they truly are and effectively communicate the things they want to say.

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