T-shirts are a part of everyday life. We wear T-shirts in almost all the occasions. A T-shirt is usually buttonless, collarless and pocketless, with a round neck and short sleeves, pulled on over the head. There are also sleeveless T-shirt and long-sleeved T-shirt variants. Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine life without the t-shirt. However, did you know, “t-shirt” wasn’t a term in the English dictionary until the 1920’s, and until the 1960’s, the style wasn’t popular fashion. Shocking, right?
The humble tshirt has come a long way since then, from being an unknown clothing to being a political statement, a work of art, an advertisement billboard, something to make you laugh, a fashion statement, and even something easy to wear.
Like the shirt, the T-shirt started out as underwear.
In 1948, first t-shirt was made with a slogan on it;” Dew it with Dewey” This t-shirt was made to promote the New York governor, Thomas E Dewey’s election campaign. You can see one of the original t-shirts for yourself at The Smithsonian Institute, which has it on permanent display. To this day, T-shirts are used for political statements, but usually as a protest rather than a political or political party endorsement. Even without speaking your views, you can tell the world what you think with the slogan T shirt, this coupled with television, the TV protesters have instantly conveyed their message to a wider audience.
This was the beginning of the age of printed shirts. By the fifties, everyone was wearing t-shirts, and the corporations had started sticking their pictures and logos and selling them as souvenirs. But the real breakthrough came in 1959 when stretchy ink was invented. Since then, there has been no stopping them, from the anti-war slogans of the 1960s to the huge oversized t-shirts of the 1980s and the tight tees of the 1990s to the customized trend of the ‘ 00s.
The rise of this “underwear” was impacting every industry. Even Hollywood couldn’t resist this trend and wanted to be part of it. Hollywood inevitably had the major effect on the classic tee with such iconic images as Brando’s T-shirt in the 1951 ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’.
And James Dean’s unforgettable white tee in ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ in 1955, which made t-shirt wearing cool and rebellious. Dean, with his now famous white T-shirt and a red leather jacket identical to Brando’s white T-shirt and a black leather jacket in The Wild Ones, had created a look for the teenage rebels, the T-shirt was still seen as an underwear and was immediately suggestive and symbolized by a rebellious spirit.
This was followed by Elvis Presley and others adding to its vogue. Up until the 1950’s, t-shirts were still considered underwear, until John Wayne, Marlon Brando, and James Dean shocked Americans by wearing “underwear” as outwear on T.V.
In 1965 Budweiser was the first to use the t shirt as a widespread marketing tool. This was considered as unique marketing strategy and soon many companies started marketing their product or brand by simply putting them on a t-shirt.
After this trend began to spread like wildfire, Rock and Roll bands also started to realize that they could make significant amounts of money selling their T-Shirts. Big Sports brands caught on and soon the officially licensed T-Shirt became hot merchandise. T-shirts became acceptable as everyday clothing in the 1970’s.
Since then, T-shirts have become a significant part of our lives. The idea of putting a message on a t-shirt embraces the modern phenomenon of “personal branding” indicating, the wearer’s sense of humor, design, motto as well as statements —political or personal— which are generally preferred to be catchy than true.
So the next time you slip on a t-shirt, remember that there’s nothing as simple and as iconic, there are very few things that stick around forever and t-shirts are one of them.