We all know what a t-shirt is. In fact, there’s a good chance that you’re wearing one right now—or will be at some point today. Everyone has at least one t-shirt in their closet in today’s world, kinda hard to believe there was a time we lived without them. Let us recap the history of the t-shirt.
This iconic American staple was born from the undergarments of factory workers in the 19th century. The workers would cut their long johns in two when it got too hot, resulting in a top that was more comfortable and easier to work in: the original t-shirt.
The trend caught on quickly, and in 1904 the Copper Underwear Company (now known as Jockey) ran a magazine ad campaign featuring the “Bachelor Undershirt.” With a stretchy neckband and no buttons or collar, this shirt targeted single men because it required no sewing skills.
During the Mexican-American war, the United States Navy issued t-shirts as the official undergarments for their uniform officers. It became very common in the early 1900’s for military men and others to wear t-shirts underneath their proper clothing, but it was still not socially acceptable to wear them alone. In certain places it was even considered illegal to wear undergarment shirts as outerwear.
In 1920, the famous American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald was the first to use the term t-shirt in print, coining the name that we still use today. Soon after his published use of the word, the term t-shirt was officially added to the dictionary.
During the great depression, the t-shirt became the garment of choice for farm and factory laborers. Its popularity increased quickly because of its convenience and comfort. Even though t-shirts were common in the 20’s and 30’s, they were still considered an undergarment.
In 1950, Marlon Brando wore a stand-alone white t-shirt when he played Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. James Dean followed his lead in 1955, dawning a t-shirt in Rebel Without A Cause. These two men led a rebellion that changed American fashion forever by proudly wearing what was considered an undergarment as outerwear. Eventually America gave into the trend completely, and t-shirts were accepted as stand-alone outerwear.
As the popularity of the t-shirt continued to grow, the world began to realize that t-shirts were valuable blank canvases. The 50’s and 60’s brought us the industry of graphic and printed t-shirts. By the 70’s t-shirts exhibited everything from anti-war slogans to Walt Disney’s cartoon characters.
Today, t-shirts thrive in many forms. Americans eat, sleep, breathe, work, dream, and live in their t-shirts. What began as an undergarment has evolved into so much more. The simple design has remained popular throughout every fashion era because of its undeniable comfort and simplicity. Yet for something so simple, your options can get overwhelming. There are so many different t-shirts on the market, all varying in cost and quality. It’s hard to find the perfect t-shirt, and that’s why we created Ridiculously Rad Tees. You can count on our tees to always be super soft, super comfortable, and super affordable—without sacrificing quality. Our goal is to live up to the deep history of the t-shirt.