The t-shirt is one of the most basic fashion pieces. It's a wardrobe essential that is the champion of casual wear and is easily accessible from almost every fashion label. And this is the very reason why we were curious about how it became a part of our daily lives. So, we did our digging to find out more about the origins of the t-shirt.
A military past
The world's oldest preserved garment made from linen that roughly fits the 'shirt' profile is from a First Dynasty Egyptian tomb at Tarkan dated 3000 BC. It is designed to be form-fitting while still allowing the wearer enough room to move. But even until the early 19th century, shirts were described to have collars and long sleeves and were meant to be worn underneath coats and vests.
It wasn't until sometime in the Spanish-American War that the piece we now know as the t-shirt came to be. By approximately 1898, the U.S. Navy issued the garment to be worn by the soldiers underneath their uniform, designed with crew necks and shorter sleeves for better wear and feel. Soon enough, it was adopted by the rest of the Army after being issued to new recruits and having it worn during training sessions and leisure times in camp because of how convenient it is a clothing piece.
The ideal working man's wear
At the start of the 1900s, the t-shirt became the ideal garment for farmers, dockworkers, miners, and most blue collar workers because of the lightweight feel of the material and how comfortable it was to wear even through extensive labour. Cotton is also inexpensive and easy-to-wash. It wasn't long until parents decided to get t-shirts for their children's everyday clothing. By the 1920s, the term 't-shirt', which came from the piece's shape resembling the letter T, had already made its way into the pages of the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
The wonderful wizard of shirts
(Screenshot from the 1939 film; Warner Bros. Family Entertainment)
The Wizard of Oz is an iconic movie, but it also counts as one of the earliest, perhaps even the first film where people wore printed t-shirts.
On 13 July 1942, an Air Corps Gunnery School T-shirt, which also counts as a graphic tee, made its way into the cover of LIFE magazine and has been credited as the first time it has been showcased in a photograph.
Marlon, Mickey, and the rest is history
Officially crossing over from military wear to the common folk's wardrobe, the t-shirt's popularity started in the early '50s when Marlon Brando sported it in the film adaptation of the book A Streetcar Named Desire. Since then, it became cool to wear the t-shirt on its own over denim, slacks, or just about anything.
By the end of that year, the company Tropix Togs turned printing t-shirts into a million dollar business by getting exclusive rights from Walt Disney to print Mickey Mouse t-shirts. This paved the way for the popularisation of the graphic tee. By the '60s and the '70s, the t-shirt has been an avenue for artists, cities, and even politicians and activists to present ideas, visuals, and statements.
Since then, tees have become not just a fashion essential but perhaps also a life staple to people.
Can't get enough of tees? Find out the best white shirt according to your body type here.