History of T-shirt

The T-shirt has been introduced to the world by America, yes Uncle Sam it is who taught us about t-shirts. Although the earlier version of t-shirts was quite different to what we wear nowadays.

History is a little blurred about exactly who introduced the t-shirt or where it started originally but a lot of the sources say that the t-shirt has its origins in the military and perhaps in the 19th century.

Starting as a single undergarment that covered the torso, sleeves, and legs, these “union suits” later evolved into a two-piece variety known as “long johns”.

They were unattractive garments that revealed the best (and worst) parts of the male body – but they kept sailors and soldiers warm and that was important.

With the advent of WW1 around 1913 - 1914, the "long johns" got replaced by the British into short-sleeved cotton vests. And then these got introduced into the colonies the world over. It is not hard to guess that is when the t-shirts came to India. 

Even then, it took until 1920 for the actual term “t-shirt” to be inducted into the English dictionary, thanks to F. Scott Fitzgerald being the first person to publish the word in his novel This Side of Paradise.

“So early in September Amory,” writes Fitzgerald, “provided with ‘six suits summer underwear, six suits winter underwear, one sweater or T-shirt, one jersey, one overcoat, winter, etc,’ set out for New England, the land of schools.”

Introduction in Hollywood by Marlon Brando & James Dean

The iconic Marlon Brando wore the t-shirt in his movie A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and one of the covers of his movies showed him wearing a short-sleeved white t-shirt showing off his raw machismo.  



Then James Dean considered a style icon in the 1950s wore a t-shirt in his movie Rebel without a cause around the same time. These two gentlemen can be considered the founding fathers to get t-shirts introduced to the movie lovers and the general public and it caught a trend.

Rebel without a cause tshirt history

It was a men's only garment to show off their macho self. It was looked upon as rebellious as it was once worn as an undergarment hence it was a tough statement by anyone who was wearing one.

A way of expression

In the 1960s, printed T-shirts gained popularity for self-expression as well for advertisements, protests, and souvenirs. It began to be recognized for its promotional potential.

Coca-Cola and Disney used t-shirts to put their logos in the 1970s, other multinationals followed soon after. Mainstream fashion designers only made a dash for the t-shirt in the 1980s when they realized formality was never returning.
Famously, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein made t-shirts that appealed to respectable adults and rebellious teenagers alike.

Graphic T-shirts and T-shirt printing

With the rise in online shopping in the early 2000s there were a lot of new ideas and trends that emerged. A number of start ups used T-shirt as a medium of expressing different ideas, cultures, designs.

Printed graphic t-shirts became a very trendy thing among youngsters. A number of methods of printing t-shirts which were cost effective also came up which helped these start ups to bring their ideas across to the young generations.

Custom t-shirts have become very popular where people can get any design printed into their t-shirt and then wear them and express themselves. It is also used as a campaigning tool by major corporate companies.

 Custom tshirt

The future of T-shirts

 To summarize, the t-shirt entered very non-flamboyantly but through the last century has emerged as a campaigning tool, a canvas of expressing your own thoughts, ideas, a comforting garment worn all over the worlds. Is it here to stay? Most certainly YES, and it will re-define itself in the next century as well. So, let's hoping it does.

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