You Are What You Wear...When It Comes To That T-Shirt
Fashion, like history, repeats itself. But with each return, there is new purpose and design. Today, the most iconic garment worldwide is the T-shirt; and, just as with every item of clothing we wear, the T-shirt has a story.
The next time you don your favorite T, you’ll recognize the step back in time, in a sense, as far back as the middle ages when this article of clothing first appeared. Sometime between the date of 476 AD and 1453, men wore woven cotton or linen shirts underneath other garments as a hygienic barrier to the skin. As per Vogue in “Everything to know about the history of the T-shirt,” the construction involved two pieces of rectangular fabric sewn into a T-shape with long tails.
Fast forward to the early 19th century, and the shirt had lost its tails and became slightly more formfitting. It was sometime between the Mexican-American war in 1898 and 1913 that the first manufactured t-shirts were produced in the U.S., which proved helpful for the Navy, who began issuing standard undershirts.
In 1920, author F. Scott Fitzgerald coined the term “T-shirt” in his book This Side of Paradise, and in 1938, American Retailer Sears, Roebuck began selling the white “gob” (sling for sailors) shirt. They marketed the shirt as appropriate for both inner and outer wear.
The T-shirt became famous and the definitive outer garment when worn by Marlon Brando in 1950 in the film Streetcar Named Desire. “Stellaaaaaaa!” And soon thereafter, it was a rebel’s statement when seen on James Dean in the 1955 movie Rebel Without A Cause.
By the 1960s and beyond, the T-shirt became a statement article of clothing for bands and anyone who had something “off the beaten track” to say. And today, it’s an “empty canvas,” as Dennis Northdruft—head of exhibitions at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum—describes in the T-shirt: Cult/Culture/Subversion art exhibit that ran in 2018.
Whether your T-shirt is specific to a cause or sentiment, shows off the last band you saw, or just displays that you love pugs, this garment is an essential—and often personal—article of clothing many of us wear each day. Please check out our T-shirts and see which ones encourage and speak to you!
Here is the history of T-shirts in our infographic