The t-shirt, which is currently unisex and all-purpose, was originally an undergarment worn by men. In the Middle Ages, T-shaped shirts constructed of linen or cotton were worn as an additional layer of protection placed between the body as well as the clothing which was covered. They were easy to wash and also provided a safe and clean shield to protect the skin. Clean, freshly washed clothes showed the man's wealth.
The shirt's design -- large rectangular pieces of cloth that were stitched together to create a "T" shape with long tails of the shirt which could be put between the legs -- was changed during the 19th century when those tails were removed, and it was cut to make it a snugger fit.
History Of The T-Shirt
The t-shirt went through several significant changes in the 1800s. The advancement of knitting techniques meant it was possible to make it with a form-fitting style along with more refinements and a larger range of fabrics, such as jersey, wool and the calico. Hygienists loved knit-wool-t-shaped shirts for their shielding against diseases from colds, the body or the entire body, and recommended women wear them instead of corsets.
At the end of the 18th century, British sailors (above) wore white flannel shirts atop the woollen garments the sailors wore. At the close of the century, in the 18th century, this was around this time that the British Royal Navy began allowing its sailors to wear undershirts while they were on deck. Wearing t-shirts to cover up was quickly popular among working-class men on weekends.
In 1880, it was revealed that the US Navy included a loose fitting cotton flannel that had an extended neck as an element of their uniform. In 1913, the Navy introduced the white cotton knit t-shirt as its official underwear. The cotton is dryer than flannel and was more comfortable to wear.
In 1904, Cooper Underwear Company launched an advertisement in a magazine that announced a new product designed for bachelors. In the "before" photo, a man is seen avoiding the camera as if he is embarrassed and has removed all buttons from his undershirt and pinned the flaps of his undershirt together. In the "after" photo, a young man is seen sporting a moustache from a handlebar, smoking a cigar and wearing a "bachelor undershirt" stretchy enough to drape over the head. "No safety pins -- no buttons -- no needle -- no thread," said the slogan targeted at men who didn't have wives and no-sew abilities. Someone from the U.S. Navy must have observed the logic and the year after the quartermaster's office made it clear that sailors wear undershirts without buttons beneath their uniforms. Soon many men were familiar with the ease of a cotton pullover.
Although it was confirmed that the Cooper Underwear Company popularized the crew-neck shirt, they could not create the look. The shirts were born from men's long johns during the 19th century. Several clothing makers tried methods that allowed garments to move out over the head before snapping back to form.
In the early 1890s, cotton pullovers were still considered underwear for many people, and wearing them out in public was considered embarrassing. The lawmakers of Havana were so bold as to prohibit wearing any underwear-style top. Therefore, workers were forced to work in long-sleeved shirts with buttons during the summer heat.
Then, slowly, the crew neck was popularized. It was in 1920 that the item was revived under a different title due to a specific American author: F. Scott Fitzgerald. Yes, the very same as “The Great Gatsby”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the writer was the first person to use the term "t-shirt" in print; it is featured in his novel "This Side of Paradise" in the list of accessories that characters wear to the boarding school. Fitzgerald appears to have believed that the concept of a "t-shirt" (so named, probably due to its shape) is a familiar concept to readers and would be able to identify it with the "white-flannelled, bare-headed youths" of New England prep schools.
The t-shirt industry boomed in the early 20th century. The P.H. Hanes Knitting Company began producing men's underwear in 1901. Fruit of the Loom began marketing t-shirts in large sizes in the first decade of the 1910s. Around 1930, t-shirts were the norm for athletes at the college level.
In 1938, the t-shirts offered by the American retailer Sears, Roebuck and Company started to offer an all-white cotton "gob" (slang for sailor) shirt available for purchase. "It's an undershirt; it's an outer shirt", the advert read, reassuring the buyers that they can "wear it as an outer shirt for sports and lounging, or as an undershirt -- it's practical, correct either way". During the Second World War, the US Army and Navy offered their troops short-sleeved white cotton t-shirts. Pictures of wartime and postwar t-shirt-wearing soldiers during the war helped spread the idea of the t-shirt as a symbol of heroic masculinity. "You don't need to be a soldier to have your t-shirt," Sears declared in 1941.
The increasing trend of Hollywood actors beginning to wear white t-shirts to display their characters' rebellion took off during the 1950s. Examples include Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun (1951), Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953) and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Brando and Dean, especially to this day, are iconic for the look, often paired with a denim or leather jacket. The t-shirt was introduced to men's wardrobes as a fashion item that could be worn out of the office. It took another 60 years before the t-shirt became accepted as proper work attire, but it was not until the 1960s that it became a standard.
It is worn close to the skin and outlines the torso and chest of the body in a tighter cut than many were used to. Actresses and singers adopted this aspect of the t-shirt in the 1960s.
In the 1970s, the t-shirt was made to be unisex. The t-shirt was undergoing a transition to outerwear from underwear, and it became an open space for messages, whether political, advertising, or humorous. The advancements in printing technology, such as silk-screen technology in the 1960s, made it simple, cheap and cost-effective to create designs for t-shirts. In the 1970s, individuals could have personalised, customized t-shirts. Businesses began to realize the benefits of t-shirts in promoting their products, and so did music management and band companies.
Because of its connection to the working class and the subversiveness that comes with an undergarment on the outside, the t-shirt has become a favourite among generations of musicians, writers, actors, and intellectuals. The rap world buzzed with t-shirts during the 1990s alongside pop stars and models. T-shirts have the ability to lower socioeconomic status; a wide range of people has used low-cost t-shirts to make money. They are also an obvious sign of consumerism evident in the designer versions.
Designer t-shirts have been available since the 1950s. Various designers have worn them throughout the period: from Yves Saint Laurent and Dior in the 1970s to Chanel, Lacoste, Calvin Klein and Polo Ralph Lauren in the 1990s. Giorgio Armani, Helmet Lang and Nicolas Ghesquiere wear the t-shirt as an appropriate dress code. It was changed from its humble beginnings in the shape of a basic garment 100 years ago.
It is now a necessity of every person's wardrobe: it is hard to imagine a person in the world that does not have a t-shirt in their wardrobe.