The Humble Tee: When Were T-Shirts Invented?


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"T" shapes "T" shape with long tails of 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 more snug 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. The end of the 18th century, British sailors (above) were wearing white flannel shirts atop their woollen garments the sailors were wearing. 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. The practice of 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 In 1904, Cooper Underwear Company in 1904 Cooper Underwear Company ran a advertisement in a magazine that announced a new product designed for bachelors. On the "before" photo, a man is seen avoiding the camera as if he is embarrassed and has removed all buttons from his undershirt , and is pinned the flaps of his undershirt together. On the "after" photo, a young man is seen sporting a mustache from a handlebar smokes a cigar and wears an "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 wife 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 true that the Cooper Underwear Company popularized the crew-neck shirt, they could not create the look. The shirts were born from the long-johns that men wore during the 19th century. Several clothing makers tried out methods which allowed garments to move out over the head before snapping back to form.

In the early 1890s cotton pullovers were still considered to be underwear for many people, and wearing it out in public was considered embarrassing. The lawmakers of Havana were so bold as to prohibit the wearing of any underwear-style top. Therefore, workers were forced to work during the summer heat in long-sleeved shirts with buttons.

Then, slowly, the crew neck was popularized. It was in 1920 that the item was revived under a different title due because of a certain American author: F. Scott Fitzgerald. Yes,the very same as “The Great Gatsby”. As per the Oxford English Dictionary, the writer was the first person to make use of 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 an "T-shirt" (so named, probably due to its shape) is a common 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 with a large size 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 company 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 outershirt" the advert read, reassuring the buyers that they can "wear it as an outershirt for sports and for lounging, or as an undershirt -- it's practical, correct, either way". During the Second World War, the US Army and Navy were offering short-sleeved white cotton T-shirts to their troops. Pictures of wartime and postwar T-shirt-wearing soldiers during time of war helped to spread the idea of the T-shirt as a symbol of heroic masculinity. "You don't need to be a soldier to have your own personal T-shirt," Sears declared in 1941.




The increasing trend of Hollywood actors beginning to wear white T-shirts in order to display their characters' rebellion really took off during the 1950’s.  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 the wardrobes of men as a fashion item that could be worn out of the office. It took another 60 years before the T-shirt became accepted as a 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. This aspect of the T-shirt was adopted by actresses and singers 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, it became an open space for messages, whether political, or advertising, or humorous. The advancements in printing technology such as silk-screen technology in the 1960s allowed it to be 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 bands companies.


Because of its connection to the working class and the subversiveness that comes with having an undergarment on the outside , the T-shirt has become a favourite among generations of musicians, writers as also actors and intellectuals. The world of rap was buzzing with T-shirts during the 1990s alongside pop stars and models. The T-shirt has the ability to lower socioeconomic status, low-cost T-shirts have been used by a wide range of people making money, they are also an obvious sign of consumerism which is evident in the designer versions. Designer T-shirts have been available from the 1950s . They have been worn by a variety of designers since 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's changed a lot 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 possess one;