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The American t-shirt has become one of the best mediums for self-expression. Whether you state what you feel in words or by displaying the logo of your favorite product or brand, your feelings are made known to all who see you. In fact, just wearing a t-shirt is a statement in and of itself.
It is hard to trace the exact roots of the t-shirt because there is little documented history of it. The best way to track its existence is searching through historical photographs.
Legend has it that American soldiers envied their British counterparts uniforms during WW1.The British wore a white t-shirt as part of their uniform (they had been wearing these t-shirts as part of their military uniform since the late 1890’s).
The soldier’s pullover shirt had a round neck, short sleeves, and fell to the waist. It did not have a collar or any buttons. Made from lightweight cotton, it felt soft and comfortable on the skin. The t-shirt soaked up the soldier’s sweat, allowing more time between laundering the heavy, wool uniform.
Although it is not known when the t-shirt actually became a part of the American fashion scene, Webster added “T-shirt” to its dictionary in 1920. Moreover, in WW2 a 1942 cover of Life magazine depicted it as worn by the American military.
In 1951, Marlin Brando wore a plain, white t-shirt under a leather jacket for the first time in cinematic history. The movie was On The Waterfront. James Dean, in the film Rebel Without A Cause, added a pack of cigarettes rolled-up in one sleeve and became the fashion symbol of America’s rebel youth.
At the end of the 1950’s and in the beginning of the 1960’s, the conforming American middle-class was exemplified by the Leave It To Beavertelevision show. In it, the boys wore a plain, white t-shirt under their button-down plaid shirts. The counter-culture beatniks, however, (as shown on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis television show) made the wearing of only a t-shirt their uniform.
In Southern California, drag racers first airbrushed fancy flames and exotic lettering onto their t-shirts before they eventually turned to decorating their hot rod vehicles.
Hippies tied up the t-shirt with string or rubber bands, and then applied bright colored dyes to different sections, creating unique, eye-catching designs when the t-shirt was worn.
Wearing just a t-shirt was fashionable until 1984 when the Miami Vice television show set the fashion world atilt: Don Johnson wore a plain t-shirt under a designer jacket for the more than casual look.
The first known use of the t-shirt as an advertising medium was in 1939 when Warner Bros. distributed a Wizard of Ozt-shirt. Later, in the early 1950’s, several Miami companies started decorating t-shirts with Disney cartoon characters and resort names.
In 1948, t-shirts made their first political statement when supporters of Thomas E. Dewey (who lost the election to Harry Truman) wore t-shirts that proclaimed “Dew It For Dewey”.
The advent of screen-printing onto t-shirts in the 1960’s allowed for an inexpensive method of self-expression. Eventually, it also became a marketing tool for corporate America to advertise their merchandise.
The professional sports associations officially licensed the use of their logos and names and a moneymaker was born. Rock and roll bands introduced the concert t-shirt: a black shirt listing the concert tour they were playing. Fans wore them long after the stated tour ended as proof of their devotion to the band.
From a hand-written scrawl to a personal design created on one’s computer, Americans tell the world what they think with their t-shirts. Whether you are a political activist or a diehard Red Sox fan, a mother-to-be or a comic without a stage, the t-shirt can help you shout your passion to the world, and it can do it inexpensively.
Ruth Lanham is the owner of Top Tee Designs, the popular t-shirt and gift site. To find out more, visit http://www.tshirts-tshirts.com
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