The following are two popular theories:
Men working on the docks at Annapolis, Maryland, in the late 1600s unloaded a great deal of tea. The simple shirts they wore became known as “tea shirts,” later shorted simply to “T-shirts.”
The second theory comes from across the pond, in the Royal Navy. Navy men wearing the equivalent of tank tops offended the British Royal Family who insisted they cover their arms enough to hide their armpits. The shirts looked like “T’s” in comparison to the old tanks and so were dubbed “T shirts.”
History of the T-shirt
It’s hard to imagine life without the t-shirt. Yet, “t-shirt” didn’t become a word in the English dictionary until the 1920’s and the style didn’t enter mainstream fashion until the 1960’s.
During W.W.I, American troops wore wool uniforms during hot summer days in Europe and noticed European soldiers wearing lightweight cotton undershirts. This cool apparel caught on fast with the Americans and by W.W.II, both the Army and the Navy included them in their uniforms.
Up until the 1950’s, t-shirts were still considered underwear, until John Wayne, Marlon Brando, and James Dean shocked Americans by wearing their “underwear” on T.V. In 1955, James Dean helped make the T-shirt a standard item of clothing in Rebel Without a Cause.
Advances in Screenprinting gave people the opportunity to print on T-shirts in the 1960’s.
Since then, t-shirts have only become more popular in the United States and are a staple in the American wardrobe. TV personalities have increased the popularity of custom t-shirts and “message shirts” by wearing them on highly rated shows and celebrities have used them as a way to communicate with the public. Because they are both convenient and fun, it is doubtful that the t-shirt will disappear from American culture anytime soon.
Approximately two billion T-shirts are sold worldwide each year.
Six miles of yarn are used to make one T-shirt.
An acre of farmland yields enough cotton to produce 1,200 T-shirts.
The most common form of T-shirt decoration is screen-printing. In screen-printing inks are applied to the shirt through mesh screens which limits the areas where ink is deposited. In 1954 plastisol ink was invented, more durable and stretchable it enabled today’s T-shirt industry to evolve.
The tank top is the predecessor of the T-shirt and is commonly referred to as a singlet in Britain and a wife-beater in the US.
The T-shirt has been a standard issue item for the US Navy since 1918, but was originally different from today’s version.
In 1932 the University of Southern California asked Jockey International Inc. to design a low-priced shirt to absorb sweat and prevent football player’s shoulder pads from chafing the skin. The athletes wore their T-shirts around campus and they became popular. To prevent thefts, “Property of USC” was stenciled on the shirts; however, this made them even more popular. Finally the university began, selling USC T-shirts in their bookstore.
In 1939 the first promotional t-shirt was printed for the movie “The Wizard of Oz”.
During World War II Navy T-shirts were issued to US Marines and Army soldiers.
Thomas E. Dewey, Republican US presidential candidate in 1948, was the first to put a political slogan on a T-shirt with “Dew-It with Dewey”
The Smithsonian Institute displays the oldest printed shirt on record, emblazoned with the phrase “Dew-It with Dewey” from New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey’s 1948 presidential campaign.
In the 1950 play “A Streetcar named Desire” Marlon Brando’s T-shirt and jeans were tailored to be form fitting fully accentuating his physique.
The rebel uniform of the 50’s, a black leather jacket, white T-shirt, and jeans, was popularized in the 1954 film “The Wild Ones” staring Marlon Brando.
Cli-Ché: the famous revolutionary icon of Che Guevara sold on T-shirts worldwide is based on a photo taken by photographer Alberto Korda on March 5, 1960.
In 1977 more than 8 million dollars worth of Farrah Fawcett T-shirts from TV’s “Charlie’s Angels” were sold.
The origin of the wet T-shirt contest is generally traced back to Jacqueline Bisset’s appearance in the film The Deep (1977) in whose opening sequence she was seen swimming underwater then surfacing, wearing a white T-shirt with a topless bikini.
Millions of T-shirts are donated to the Salvation Army each year. They are then auctioned off by the pound and exported to third world nations.
T-shirts made from recycled cotton prevent over five billion tons of textile waste from entering landfills each year.
A survey by a T-shirt company in American discovered that 62% of the sample owned more than 10 T-shirts and in the 18 to 24 age group 79% owned over 10 T-shirts and 19% owned over 30.
Tie-dye a form of T-shirt decoration popularized in the 60s originated in sub-Saharan Africa.
Ninety-one percent of Americans profess to owning a “favorite” T-shirt.
What’s your favorite tee?