History of the T-shirt

Strolling down the street one might agree that T-shirts are about as common as tennis shoes today. This comfortable garment that we have all come to love is available in hundreds of styles and colors and can be purchased everywhere from roadside gas stations to premier luxury boutiques, but this hasn’t always the case. Introduced in the early 1900’s, the T-shirt is relatively young in terms of clothing, but 100 years later few pieces of apparel have accomplished as much as the T-shirt has during its lifespan.

While it is believed that the T-shirt was created sometime between the Spanish-American War and 1913, it is the latter date that has been considered the official introduction of the T-shirt when the T-shirt became a standard issue undergarment for sailors in the United States Navy. The popularity of the T-shirt quickly spread through our nation’s militaries and by the end of WWII the T-shirt had become commonplace as part of a soldiers uniform in almost all military branches.

During the 1950’s, popularity continued to spread for the T-shirt as it made its way from standard military attire to Hollywood fashion as celebrities including Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Elvis Presley began sporting the classic T-shirt on the stage and silver screen. This spurred another growth surge for the T-shirt and eventually led to the commercialization of the T-shirt with the advent of commercial screen printing in the late 1950’s.

Throughout the 1960’s T-shirts flourished as a form of self-expression, promotion, and propaganda. T-shirts quickly became walking billboards for brands, cartoon characters, and political agendas.   Screen printing continued to be a driving motion fueling the rise of the T-shirt during the 1960’s. Much of the continued growth during 1960’s was due in part to the creation of the rotary multicolor garment screen printing machine developed by Michael Vasilantone. This new technology helped to streamline the screen printing process and simplified the procedure for creating unique T-shirt designs.  

Over the last 30 years or so, the T-shirt has maintained its place as a favorite amongst its closet counterparts. T-shirts continue to provide a canvas for people to express their feelings and individual style and for companies to promote their brand and message. Whether commemorating a special concert or that first trip to New York, the T-shirt has enabled the world to memorialize special events throughout their lives making the T-shirt truly an iconic piece of 20th century Americana.

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