The History of the T-Shirt

History of the T-Shirt

One could say the T-shirt is the most versatile item of clothing. With its endless designs, textures, and cuts, the t-shirt has never gone out of style. But how did this staple come to be?

Military and Labor usage

Its first design came about by separating “union suit” underwear into separate pieces. From this, the U.S. began issuing them as undergarments and wearing them became a requirement. It then entered casual usage as sailors and Marines wore them to attend social gatherings. Later on, the T-shirt was often used by farmers during the Great Depression because they were both cheap and breathable.

Entry into Pop-Culture

While Marlon Brando popularized the T-shirt as casual wear in his role in A Streetcar Named Desire, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the garment truly branched out from its utilitarian purpose and became a tool for self-expression and societal awareness.

As more people began to wear T-shirts, brands like Coca-Cola and Walt Disney recognized this as an advertising tool. Warren Dayton is an example of someone who popularized the graphic T-shirts by using his artistic skills to the garment as a medium for art and branding.

The T-shirt has not only been used for artistic expression and corporate ties, but for political motives as well. Whether it is used to promote the slogan of a political candidate, or used as a rebellion, the T-shirt provides a blank canvas to spread one’s message. Something as unassuming as T-shirts have the ability to kickstart an entire movement and direct society in its evolving nature.

The Responsible T-shirt

If it’s not broke don’t fix it, right? Well, not according to those that are taking the initiative to create a garment that’s better for our world. Ryan Armstrong is using his T-shirt business Bananaman to raise money to help with Australian wildfire relief. With the image of an adorable Koala and the words “We Love Australia,” Armstrong was able to raise $1,000 within the first 3 hours of putting them up for sale. Along with cause-driven sales, companies like Boody are innovating the materials used in a classic tee to ensure that everyone can have this staple ethically (Read this article on our tips on building a sustainable closet). This staple not only has lasted for generations but has the power to help those ahead.



I am a writer for Loopie, a peer-to-peer laundry service based in Seattle.

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Sarah Pritchett

I am a writer for Loopie, a peer-to-peer laundry service based in Seattle.