The History of the T-Shirt

How many times have you picked out a t-shirt when deciding what to wear? I know I do it on a daily basis.

The t-shirt has been a staple of the modern wardrobe for as long as most people can remember. Most people alive today have grown up in a world where the t-shirt is a part of every day life. Yet the word t-shirt didn’t enter the English Dictionary until the 1920’s and didn’t enter mainstream culture until the 1960’s.

Initially the t-shirt was billed as an undergarment, and in the 19th century the t-shirt progressed from a one piece “union suit” underwear garment in to a two piece top and bottom. In World War I, the American Troop were wearing wool uniforms during meatless Seattle the hot summer days until they noticed the European troops wearing cotton undershirts. The t-shirt caught on fast and by World War II the Army and Navy included them in their uniforms.

At the time the t-shirt was still considered underwear and it wasn’t until the 1950’s when mainstream actors such as Marlon Brando, John Wayne, James Dean decided to shock America by wearing their “underwear” on Television. James Dean helped to make the t-shirt an American standard in the 1955 movie Rebel Without a Cause.

The t-shirt was inexpensive and in style. It could even make a statement. In the 1960’s decorating techniques such as screen printing and the tie-dye became popular. In the late sixties, realizing their was money to be made in printed t-shirts, the t-shirt industry started to sky-rocket. Rock Bands, Sports Teams, and Artists led the way for the t-shirt to be sealed into American culture and the officially licensed t-shirt was born.

In the 80’s and 90’s the production volume of t-shirts, especially screen printed shirts, increased dramatically. This caused the t-shirt to become a commodity in the apparel world. As we move into the 2000’s and beyond the trend will continue. We’ve already seen the shift from the clunkier t-shirts of the 80’s and 90’s to a more form fitted t-shirt with a softer cotton.

It’s hard, or should I say impossible, to leave your house anymore and not see someone in a t-shirt. They are a staple of the American wardrobe. They come in all colors, shapes, sizes, and can cause emotion or represent a brand. Whether you wear funny t-shirts or t-shirts from your favorite brand, they are a part of our culture and aren’t going away any time soon.

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