The history of women´s and men´s tshirts is an interesting and surprisingly long one. We have been wearing them for over 150 years, but not always as outerwear.
T-shirts as underwear
In fact, the t-shirt was invented when someone decided to come up with an alternative to the one-piece union suit men usually wore under their clothes. They had the bright idea of cutting the top away from the bottoms and turning them into two separate garments. This made them easier to put on and take off.
Eventually, miners and stevedores started to wear the top half for work. This was the start of wearing them as workwear. However, wearing them in public was frowned upon, even for labourers. In some places, such as Havana, wearing t-shirts as outerwear was banned.
Despite this, the Cooper Underwear Company could see the true potential of the garment, so continued to develop them. In 1904, they removed the buttons and gave them a crew-neck, so they could easily be pulled over the head.
The marketing angle was that they had no buttons, which meant that men did not have to worry about the fact that they could not sew. That is why, initially, they promoted them mainly to bachelors. In 1920, F Scott Fitzgerald called this garment a t-shirt, in his book “This Side of Paradise”.
T-shirts as workwear
During the ´Great Depression´ these simple, relatively cheap garments started to be worn as outerwear. That is when they started to be worn as outerwear.
By the time the Depression was over, in 1939, t-shirts were a part of most men´s wardrobes. Even a few women wore them, but you could not exactly describe them as a fashion item.
Teenagers personalize t-shirts
That all changed when teenagers started wearing them in the 1940s. Only at school, but nonetheless, they wore them as outerwear.
Importantly, they started to personalize them, mostly using patches and sometimes frills or embroidery. That was it, the start of our love affair with the t-shirt began, and we haven´t stopped wearing them ever since.
They really became mainstream when Marlon Brando wore one in the 1954 movie “The Wild One” and James Dean did the same a year later for “Rebel Without a Cause”. Soon teenagers were wearing them at the weekend too. At first, their parents were not very impressed, but within a few years, they were doing the same.
Flowers and slogans
During the 1960s, printed t-shirts became available. At that point, t-shirts became far more than just items of clothing.
People used them as a way to make a statement and identify the tribe they belonged to. Hippies wore tie-dyed versions and t-shirts that featured peace symbols and flowers. They told the world who they were, and to some extent what they believed. Others wore t-shirts emblazoned with political messages.
Quickly, pop stars, game developers, fashion brands, and many others saw the potential of t-shirts. Now, they are ubiquitous. Virtually, everyone wears them.
Today, some of these original t-shirts are selling for up to $1,500. You can find out which ones, here.
If you have old t-shirts stowed somewhere, why not get them out and see if you can sell them? You could potentially make hundreds of dollars by doing so.