The History of the T Shirt
The History of the T Shirt


The T Shirt is such a universal and uncontroversial garment it’s easy to believe that it’s been around forever. That’s not actually the case: the history of the T Shirt is shorter than you might expect and even today it’s a source of outrage in some circles. Some people feel it’s simply never an acceptable choice of clothing and others wear little else.

The T Shirt was born around the beginning of the 20th century in America, as a sort of glorified vest. It was part of the American Naval uniform, issued as an undershirt to its sailors. Other branches of the US military service picked it up and it became very widespread among serving soldiers and veterans.

Though the official uniform regulations called for it to be worn as an undershirt only, those posted around the world to warm climates soon found themselves stripping down to their short sleeves when they were doing hard labour. Following their example, other people doing hard work in the open air started to adopt the undershirt, including farmers, labourers working on roads, even athletes training. They also became popular as durable, cheap and easy to clean piece of clothing for young boys who frequently found themselves in muddy situations. Even in the formal times of the first half of the 20th century, expected dress codes for children were more relaxed and this was an ideal solution.

In the years after the war, films and theatre focused on the trials of veterans returning home or young men who just missed out on serving, and Marlon Brando and James Dean embodied a generation of masculinity in crisis. These charismatic Hollywood stars played numerous big screen roles in the now de rigueur uniform of young men and veterans: the T Shirt.

This was the catalyst the garment needed to be turned from a functional item into an aspirational fashion icon. Since coming out from under the shirt, T Shirts have taken over the world. They’re easy display designs on, and print patterns onto, so they’re an infinite canvas for designers to work with. Supremebeing’s geometric Bear T Shirt is a great example of modern T Shirt design: centred, easily legible and visually inventive. If this doesn’t please, however, you can find a T Shirt that will fit your tastes somewhere! There’s no greater variety in any other kind of clothing.

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