Where Did the T-Shirt Come From?

Although most style trends come and go, with many of them changing seasonally, there is one trend that has stood the test of time and remained stylish for decades. I am talking about the t-shirt, of course. Whether you are a plain white T sort of guy, or you like your T’s to make a statement, the T-shirt has remained a trendy staple in any man’s wardrobe since its creation back in the 19th century.

     The first use of the article of clothing we know as the T-shirt was during the Spanish American War when the U.S. Navy issued them to seamen. These early t-shirts were crew neck, short sleeved shirts shaped like a “T” which is how they got their name. Soon after, the Army adopted the t-shirt as part of the standard issue ensemble given to recruits. Soon, everyone from dockworkers and farmers, to miners and construction workers were wearing T-shirts, preferring the lightweight fabric in hotter weather conditions.

     The fact that the t-shirt was inexpensive and easy to clean made it a favorite of mothers who would often send their children outside to play or to do chores in them. By the 1920's "T-shirt" became an official American-English word in the Merriam-Webster's Dictionary.

Printed T-Shirts

     In 1939, the printed t-shirt became a thing as T’s were printed to promote the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Shortly after that, in 1942, the cover of Life Magazine featured a T-shirt with words printed on it which, at the time, was a big deal. The shirt, an Air Corps Gunnery School T-shirt made the July 13th, 1942 cover of LIFE magazine. The world would soon see Mickey Mouse on a T-shirt making character t-s popular and almost a fashion statement.

     In the late 1960's, the T-shirt became a means of self-expression as wearable art although printed t-shirts were still used in commercial advertising and protests. After that, the popularity of the t-shirt as a cultural icon became more prominent and wearers would often choose various designs, symbols or phrases to show off their own feelings, thoughts and rank.

     The next time you reach for your favorite T-shirt, think about its history and how this simple article of clothing became so popular in today’s fashion world.

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