Nowadays, T-shirts have become an essential and versatile clothing item that most people cannot do without in their daily lives. However, do you know how the T-shirt we wear every day came to be? What is the origin and development history of T-shirts?
According to historical records, there was a “Hard Stone Restaurant” in ancient Rome, which displayed a “T-shirt” worn by Caesar, which is said to be quite similar to the T-shirts we have now. Unfortunately, we no longer know about it because in AD 79 when Mount Vesuvius erupted, the T-shirt and the restaurant were buried together.
As for modern T-shirts, we have to go back to the period of World War I. During World War I, American soldiers who went to fight in Europe were relatively well-off and wore woolen clothes, but such clothes were cumbersome in summer, especially when they needed to fight in the jungle. After knowing this news, U.S. Domestic Garment Companies specially made some cotton underwear, which was both lightweight and inexpensive, and was loved by American soldiers. Later, this style of underwear became popular.
There is another saying, also around World War I, but this theory believes that T-shirts became popular in the US Navy. In Scott Fraser’s “T-Shirt Handbook,” it is mentioned that “this thing first appeared in the US Navy because they were all wearing these round-neck, short-sleeved, and cotton underwear.” The time was around 1913, and the reason why this type of clothing was designed for the US Navy was probably that the previous navy did not like wearing clothes. They felt hot when they wore too much, but it was indecent to take off the military uniform and only wear the tank top inside, so this top was designed.
Regardless of which theory is more reliable, in any case, the term “T-shirt” was officially accepted by the public in the 1920s- the first time it was included as a generic term in the Webster Dictionary.
In the 1930s, a type of T-shirt began to be worn outside openly, which is the famous sailor shirt. The appearance of the sailor shirt stems from most people’s yearning for the unknown ocean and handsome sailors. Those who are at the forefront of fashion, both men and women, have taken off their formal wear and directly wore “underwear.”
However, T-shirts became popular in Europe and America because of two male gods, Marlon Brando and James Dean. The former relied on the nationwide release of “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 1951. With his smile and muscular body, he wore an ordinary white T-shirt. Women went crazy, realizing that men could wear underwear outside and still look handsome! Men were also excited, discovering that they could wear underwear outside too, take off expensive upper-class clothing, and show their masculinity – from this, it can be seen that for many people, those suits are just a rigid framework.
However, Brando represents rough masculinity. In other words, such ruffians were best left to the people of that time and only existed on the screen, visible but untouchable. Although the mainstream society appreciated it, they did not dare to imitate it on a large scale.
It wasn’t until James Dean’s T-shirt outfit appeared in 1955 that more and more men gradually accepted it. In “Rebel Without a Cause,” his slender figure, pale face, emotional outbursts, and T-shirt + black leather jacket + jeans image directly influenced a generation of young people. They regarded James Dean as their hero, rebellious idol, and a standard combination of literary youth and radicals.
After that, in the 1960s, more and more people became obsessed with casual wear. The most typical representatives were sports clothing, jeans, and T-shirts.
More than ten years later, in 1975, T-shirts had a big outbreak! 48 million printed T-shirts appeared in the various clothing markets in the United States, and this number has been increasing, showing no downward trend.
The term “cultural shirt” for T-shirts comes from the attitude of young people at that time. They directly expressed their dirty words, self-deprecating ideals, beloved girls, shocking desires, and free emotions on the T-shirts they wore.
Undoubtedly, T-shirts became the chief spokesperson for anti-traditional and anti-cultural movements of that era.