The History of the Humble T-Shirt

Here’s an interesting fact I found the other day whilst wasting time when I should have been working: the t-shirt is 100 year’s old this year. How cool is that? Yes, back in 1913 dudes were rocking men’s t-shirts! Of course the ladies were still restricted to floor length dresses and corsets, but for the guys at least men’s fashion was about to start to evolve into something slightly more causal. So to celebrate this centenary I thought I’d find out a bit more about the history of the t-shirt.

birth of the t-shirt

Just hanging around waiting for t-shirts to be invented

Naturally, when the t-shirt first appeared it was nothing like the urban wear that we see on the streets and in magazines or movies today. Men’s clothing was still formal and for the upper and middle classes, at least, street wear pretty much just meant wearing a hat and gloves when you left the house. And perhaps carrying a cane if you were terribly dapper. So what did the precursors to today’s designer t-shirts look like when they first originated – and who invented them?

It probably won’t come as much of a shock to you to learn that the t-shirt originated in the USA as military under wear; they were issued by the US Navy and were meant to be worn underneath uniforms. Shortly after this the US army followed suit and began issuing the tee to their recruits. The original design was the classic short sleeved crew neck that is still so popular today.


Are you wearing your t-shirt under there, creepy little sailor?

The garment began to spread in popularity as manual labourers realized that the tshirt was a practical work wear item that suited their needs too and it didn’t take long for men toiling in the fields, down pits, in factories, on the docks or in other physical situations to appreciate this new short sleeved, light weight cotton style. In fact the t-shirt grew in popularity so quickly that in just seven years it became a recognized word and entered the dictionary in 1920.

Although it started life as plain apparel it wasn’t long before printed t-shirts were born and although my research hasn’t located the exact date, it seems the first appearance of a printed tee was in 1942 when a solider clutching a huge gun was featured on the cover of Life magazine wearing a shirt with the words ‘Air Corps Gunnery School, Vegas Nevada’ printed on the front. Soon after this Disney realized that, hey, perhaps printed men’s t-shirts could be ’a thing’ and everyone’s favourite mouse (yes, I’m talking about Mickey) made his first t-shirt. Mickey Mouse: the godfather of street wear? You decide!

Mickey Nouse

Where’s my head at?

It took another 31 years but the t-shirt finally made its debut in Hollywood when it graced the rather ripped torso of Marlon Brando in the classic 1951 movie A Streetcar Named Desire.  Brando’s stellar performance and combination of brooding good looks and brutal masculinity made him a screen icon – and did wonders for t-shirt sales too as teenagers and young men flocked to their local stores to get in on this latest fashion trend. So I guess in a way we have also Marlon Brando to thank for kick-starting the whole urbanwear thing!

With men’s t-shirts now firmly in the public consciousness, at least in the United States, it became a streetwear wardrobe staple for any hip, young guy that wanted to affect an air of disaffected cool. The t-shirt’s rebellious side was given an even bigger boost when James Dean wore a white one under his leather jacket three years later in 1955’s Rebel without a Cause, thus creating one of cinema’s most enduring images and legends in the process. Girls swooned and boys bought t-shirts in their truck loads.

Rebel without a Cause

Yes, OK, you’re cool, we admit it

The 1960’s and 1970’s saw the rise of the printed tshirt as urbanwear styles erred towards the flared jeans and band t-shirt trend. And for those of us who like vintage fashion we should be eternally grateful for these two decades which filled thrift stores the world over with a plethora of retro tshirts. This period also saw clothing worn to make a statement, with both men and women rocking slogan and political tees protesting against the Vietnam War and other issues of the day.

By the 1980’s the t-shirt had forgotten its roots and had gone decidedly upmarket. For which we have Don Johnson in Miami Vice to blame. The disturbing trend of wearing a tshirt underneath a suit jacket – with the sleeves rolled up of course – was huge for a time. Designers were also catching on to the fact that there was money in them there t-shirts and although the tee was still a big hit on the urban wear scene , high end fashion houses began to produce their own versions.

I Heart New York

What do you mean, you don’t own one of these?

From humble beginnings as underwear via Hollywood and into popular street wear culture, let’s finish this saying “Happy 100th birthday, t-shirt – you don’t look a day over 99!”

What’s your most iconic t-shirt of all time? Do you own a crazy amount of tees or perhaps even none at all. Leave your comments in the box below and help us wish the t-shirt many happy returns.

t-shirts 100 years

There’s nothing like being self congratulatory


Are you looking for printed t-shirts with a difference? Check out our soon-to-be-launched range of men’s urban wear t-shirts here , and why not follow us on Twitter  for more fashion news, views and random Tweets while you’re at it?



When Menswear Meets Celebrity: Fashion Industry Collaborations

When Kanye West’s much talked about urban wear collection for French brand A.P.C. was launched a couple of weeks ago on the 14th of July (co-incidentally – or perhaps not so – this is also Bastille Day AKA French National Day) it managed to crash their website and was a complete sell out within seconds of it appearing online. It seems that sometimes you really can believe the hype as even the high prices didn’t deter the frenzy with rabid shoppers snapping up the ultra-small street wear collection of just three pieces: a pair of jeans, a hoody and a t-shirt in a flash. Kanye for A.P.C.

Indeed it seems that Mr. West can currently do no wrong in the world of men’s fashion with brands and labels clamouring to work with him and be the next hot thing in celebrity collaborations. Kanye seems to have successfully pulled off what so many others before him haven’t been able to do and it seems that he may have avoided the curse that usually falls upon celebrity and fashion mash ups. Although Swedish high street store H&M usually manage to pull it off with popular partnerships with both pop stars (Madonna, Kylie Minogue) and respected fashion designers (Versace, Lanvin, Karl Lagerfeld). They also use celebs in their advertising campaigns; this year sees Beyoncé as their face of the summer whilst footballer David Beckham’s ongoing association with the company is well known.

Beyonce for H&M

Celebrity fashion collaborations, however, are much more common in women’s wear so I thought I’d take a look at men’s clothing and see if I could find any other male celebs who had worked with men’s fashion brands to create their own lines and not surprisingly there were nowhere near as many. Whilst many men’s brands, particularly those in the urbanwear and streetwear genres teamed up with likeminded labels (G-Shock and Stussy, Neighborhood and Supreme, Carhartt and Vans) there are not so many stars who get involved with men’s apparel. Maybe the offers just aren’t there, maybe guys don’t fall for the celeb thing as much as women do (although Kanye and A.P.C. would suggest otherwise) or maybe there just aren’t enough stylish famous dudes out there that inspire brands to work with them. However a little digging around on the internet did unveil a few team efforts between entertainers and fashion brands – although most of them do feature Kanye West! Neighborhood

Trainer aficionados will no doubt remember the meeting of Kanye West and Nike which resulted in one of the most sought after shoes ever, the Nike Air Yeezy. These limited edition kicks caused a frenzy when just 3000 pairs were first released in 2009. The Nike Air Yeezy II was released in 2012 and their enduring popularity sees phase three being unveiled in 2015. If you can’t wait until then, be prepared to splash the cash on eBay!

Nike Air Yeezy
Sticking with everyone’s favourite rapping urban wear designer, Kanye produced another line of footwear with none other than highly regarded French fashion house Louis Vuitton. While this does seem a very odd meeting of minds: street wear + heritage couture = ??? West was reported to have worked very closely with the maison’s director of footwear to ensure that the designs were Vuitton appropriate. The limited collection featured three designs: The Don, The Jasper and The Mr. Hudson.

Leaving the ever busy Mr. West behind for a moment we turn to rappers the Wu-Tang Clan who back in 2006 teamed up with urbanwear brand Alfie to produce trainers, a ‘Wu-Tang Life’ t-shirt and a college jacket which featured the slogan ‘R.I.P. O.D.B’ – a reference to rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard who died of a drug overdose two years previously.
It seems that rap, hip hop and streetwear brands are a match made in heaven as this year sees Nas work with the self-described ‘multimedia, design and merchandise hybrid’ Grungy Gentleman to release an autumn collection entitled HSTRY constituting of 33 garments including leather jackets and flannel shirts. Whether Nas can emulate Kanye West’s popularity is yet to be seen – he certainly has a lot to live up to!

Reggies Yates Burton

Sticking with urban wear but crossing the pond to the UK now, TV presenter, actor and radio DJ Reggie Yates has been collaborating with snowboard brand Burton to produce a range of women’s and men’s t-shirts and vests that feature his own photography printed on them. The printed designs feature stage shots of the crowd at music festivals, street scenes and huge blown up roses.

Finally, in a twist on the real celebrity joining hands with the real fashion label, American prescription glasses and sunglasses brand Warby Parker have taken inspiration from the Man of Steel himself and launched a range of glasses inspired by everyone’s favourite nerdy news reporter Clark Kent. This collection timed, of course, to coincide with this year’s release of the latest Superman movie, also promises to donate $15 USD from the sale of each pair of Man of Steel glasses to a non-profit organization that provides support for young people who want to become writers. I’m sure Clark Kent would approve! Warby Parker

Which are your top menswear or streetwear fashion collabs? And which star would you love to see bring out a range of urban wear with which designer? Or maybe you think pop stars should stick to singing and celebrity partnerships are over rated. Whatever your thoughts leave them in the comments box. And if you’re looking for urbanwear men’s clothing with a difference, head over to our website and pre-order one of our soon to be launched men’s t-shirts.