The Art of embellishing clothing goes back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans when they added political signs and religious symbols to their tunics and armor.
The “T-shirt”, as we know it, originally started out as a simple crew-neck short sleeved shirt that was meant to be worn under a soldiers uniform. They were issued to a sailor as part of their standard uniform (U.S. Navy) sometime around the Spanish American War. It was soon adopted by the U.S. Army as part of their uniform issued to recruits. The T Shirt got its iconic name from its shape, that of course being the letter “T”. The T-Shirt become very popular with workers who appreciated the comfortable lightweight cotton and short sleeves.
A few decades later, the University of Southern California football players wore a similar shirt to prevent chafing from pads and equipment during practice. The T’s became so popular on campus the students started pilfering them for casual wear. In response to the theft of these shirts, the school began stenciling “Property of USC” on them as a crime-prevention tactic, not a statement of school pride. By the 1920’s, the “T-Shirt” was part of the American lexicon along with its inclusion into the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Mickey Mouse would follow suit a few years later as an exclusively licensed print. The Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC has ‘the oldest printed T-shirt’ on record in their collection and on display. It is a campaign shirt for New York Governor Thomas Dewey’s 1948 presidential campaign.
The WWII veterans returning home would wear their service trousers with their quarter-sleeve undershirts as casual wear. This look became very common in the 1950’s. This was also the time when Marlon Brando, 1951 in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and James Dean, 1955 in “Rebel Without A Cause” furthered the shirts popularity in film.
The 1960’s bring us rock n roll album art via the T-Shirt like The Rolling Stones “Tongue and Lips”, Pink Floyd’s “The Prism” and The Grateful Dead’s album cover art was popularized by concert goers as the screen printing industry evolves. In 1969, The Rit Dye Company markets their dye as way to turn a mundane white shirt into psychedelic tie-dye masterpiece. Rit Dye arranges for tie-dyed shirts to be distributed to the audience and performers at Woodstock Concert, clinching the tie-dyed T-shirt’s place in the hippie movement and pop culture.
The ironic T-shirt is formalized, the tuxedo T-shirt appears in the 1970’s. The popularity of this T-Shirt is still a mystery. In 1977 the world sees the “Heart” T-shirt for the first time which is a marketing campaign for the State of New York. Graphic designer Milton Glaser comes up with a logo including the letter “I” followed by a heart symbol and the state abbreviation. This logo is quickly adopted by T-shirt makers as souvenirs for tourists. This T Shirt has been so popular that everyone in America has owned one or two.
The T-shirt goes Goes Hollywood again, or Goes Miami. In the 80’s, Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) of TV’s Miami Vice sports a T-shirt as part of his ever-changing, candy-colored wardrobe. This look with the rolled-up jacket sleeves and slip-on sock less loafers, takes off like wildfire. This combo of T-shirt and jacket is still alive today.
Through the 90’s and into the new century this cotton garment has been the back drop for everything from campaign slogans to sporting events, good or bad, it is here to stay. The simplicity of this humble garment has influenced the world.
The T-Shirts overall design has changed very little, but the fabrics and the multitude of colors they come in have changed this simple garment from underwear to everyday casual wear. The digital age of art and graphics plus the advancement in inks will keep the customized T-Shirt at the forefront of most peoples wardrobes for years to come. Once again social issues are topical along with environmental concerns such as global warming. The t-shirt has certainly stood the test of time, and it has a long way to go yet.
KD’s Graphics is more than a printing and graphics company. We are in the Advertising and Marketing Business. We are here to help you get noticed, we also do Yard Signs, Banners, Window Decals, Stickers and More. Serving Concord and Kannapolis, North Carolina and the USA. Contact Us with any questions you may have.