As the iconic t-shirts celebrate their 100th birthday this year, they make us remember what exactly have the good old tees went through in their rich history. Although t-shirt history may not seem like much of an interesting subject at first glance, it actually covers some of the 20th century’s defining cultural moments.
From their earliest introduction to this very day, t-shirts became an omnipresent aspect of our lives. So buckle up as we check out 10 legendary moments in t-shirt history.
Early Days: The 1913 Introduction
We’ll kick it off with the very beginning of the tees’ history. Way back in 1913, US Navy issued a set of plain white t-shirts to be used by soldiers as underclothes. It certainly wasn’t considered as a fashion landmark back in the day, but that’s exactly what it was. The tees have arrived, and they’re not planning to leave any time soon.
1920s: Tees Hit the Dictionary
It took about a decade to make it official, but the tees finally made the dictionaries during the 1920s. Merriam-Webster dictionary was the one who made the pioneering effort, making “T-shirt” an official English, or American English word. But there was still a long road ahead of t-shirts, as it’s only the ’20s we’re still talking about.
1930s: T-Shirts Enter the Fashion World
In 1938, t-shirts became an official part of the Sears’ catalog. The “It’s an undershirt. It’s an outer shirt” slogan really said it all, proclaiming the tee as not only an undergarment, but a full-fledged piece of apparel. With a price of 24 cents per piece, you’d expect them to be selling like hotcakes, but it was still a bit later on when the tees reached full swing.
1940s: T-Shirts Take the Industry World by Storm
During the ‘40s, tees have started rapidly spreading as somewhat of an unofficial uniform among the industrial workers and working class in general. Farmers, miners, mechanics, everyone wore t-shirts. Similar to jeans, the tees were practical, comfortable and even looked good. So when you think about it a bit, it really comes as no surprise that it was only a matter of time before they take over the world.
1951: The Big Hollywood Debut
The tees mania finally begins! The “A Streetcar Named Desire” movie premiere saw handsome Marlon Brando wearing a plain classic t-shirt, looking as hunky as ever, increasing not only his own popularity and the movie ticket sales, but the t-shirt popularity as well.
And we’re talking big figures here, as the tees sales reached a whopping number of $180 million by the end of the year. It only goes to show how far a proper marketing campaign can take you.
1950s: Print Meets Tees
It’s been 40 years since the introduction of t-shits, so it was high time that some innovations were made. A major step towards the modern t-shirt was made in the ‘50s, as a company named Tropix Togs acquired permission from Disney to print some of the iconic cartoon characters on t-shirts, giving birth to not only t-shirt print, but an entire new form of advertising.
Come to think about it, t-shirt isn’t a t-shirt to a lot of people these days; whether it’s a band logo or a movie t-shirt, the tee simply has to feature at least some sort of print.
1960s: Time to Rock On!
During the ‘60s, rock ‘n’ roll revolution was changing almost every aspect of the modern world, so it comes as little or no surprise that the t-shirt domain was also affected. Rock band tees everywhere, but if we were to single out the most prominent emblem, it would have to be the globally-renowned Rolling Stones lick, one of the most famous symbols of the 20th century.
Late 1960s: Tie-Dye is Here
As a major part of the hippie movement’s fashion aspect, tie dye t-shirts can still be seen today, not only on aging hippies, but on a few hip young dudes as well. The flashy, yet stylish pattern came as a brain child of Don Price, turning dull plain tees into a psychedelic experience of their own. During the iconic 1969 Woodstock festival, tie dyes were everywhere, cementing their spot in the t-shirt history.
1977: NY <3 Tees
A campaign designed to increase to popularity of Big Apple results with the legendary “I <3 NY” tee. The work of designer Milton Glaser exceeded everyone’s expectation to such extent that it went global, as even today you can find them in basically every corner of the world.
1990’s: Grunge Tees
Late great Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was one of the 90’s biggest cultural icons, affected not only the music domain, but the fashion world, including the t-shirt industry. Flannel was the fabric of choice when it comes to grunge movement, rocking the tees world yet again.