Ubiquitous and essential, the t-shirt is arguably the most popular garment in the entire world. In a range of colours, styles and sizes there is quite literally a T-shirt for everyone. But where did this iconic garment originate from? Relatively speaking, the T-shirt is a fairly new addition to our wardrobes and comes from modest beginnings in the early 1900s.
The most classic version, a white cotton jersey crewneck, was commonly distributed amongst US navy servicemen as an undergarment in the 1910s. A few years later, during World War I, it was brought to the attention of the US army and became standard issue for those serving in the military, many of whom took the fashion home with them.
By the time World War II had started, the T-shirt had become commonplace in high schools and universities across the states and while not yet a staple, it had found its way into a majority of adult’s wardrobes, at least, as an undershirt. The T-shirt’s final push for mainstream acceptance as an outer garment came in the aftermath of World War II, with soldiers returning home and incorporating them into their casual everyday style, much as they had during the war.
The T-shirt solidified its place as an outer garment with a surge in popularity
during the 1950s. This was in large part due to iconic appearances on the chests of Marlon Brando and James Dean. Their tight fitted and smouldering performances on screen, in such classics as A Street Car Named Desire and Rebel Without A Cause, caused a nationwide spike in T-shirt sales, cementing an iconic status and proving to the world that the T-shirt could be a sexy, stand-alone outer garment.
With the now classic white T-shirt not simply a garment but a part of our culture, it would never and still hasn’t gone out of fashion. Seeing notable rises in popularity in the seventies and eighties. However, during the sixties as screen-printing became more advanced, society, particularly businesses, were beginning to see the idea of a T-shirt as a blank canvas waiting to be filled and used to make a statement; any kind of statement you could care to name.
One of the most popular symbols to emerge and emblazon T-shirts during this time were those bearing the face of Marxist revolutionary, Che Guevara. It is on record as the biggest selling T-shirt of all time, even though a vast majority of those who bought it likely had no idea who Guevara was or what he stood for, quite simply, they thought the image looked cool.
It took no time at all for businesses to realise the marketing potential from these blank outer garments, from indie bands to behemoth corporations like Walt Disney and countless more. From the seventies to present day, the range of printed T-shirts available to us is now unlimited.
Be it the classic white or pop culture reference emblazoned across your chest, the meteoric rise of the T-shirt, from military underwear to THE wardrobe essential, in such a short space of time is truly nothing short of impressive and we for one, are grateful.