A hundred years ago, the word “t-shirt” wasn’t even in the dictionary, and people regularly wore fancy suits and dresses. Today, you’re far more likely to see someone walking down the street in a “That’s What She Said” t-shirt than someone in a three-piece suit with a top hat. So what happened along the way?
1900: In the Beginning
Much like blue jeans, the t-shirt started out as work clothing. Around the turn of the 20th century, the t-shirt was introduced as a lightweight item for laborers in hot weather conditions. The US Navy and Army both made a standard t-shirt part of their uniform by World War I. Soldiers and sailors could work in their t-shirts without getting their full uniforms dirty. Their presence in Europe helped make the t-shirt a worldwide geekowear. phenomenon. After World War I, all the way through the Great Depression, the t-shirt continued to spread among laborers and farm workers because it was such a convenient piece of clothing.
1950: T-Shirts Become Cool
After World War II is where t-shirts really start to shine. Of course, Hollywood is at least partially to blame. Thanks to stars like James Dean and Marlon Brando, who wore bare t-shirts (gasp!) in big movies in the 1950s, the t-shirt became a symbol of teenage rebellion. So if you wanted to stick it to your lame parents in the 1950s, you put on a plain white t-shirt and headed out the door. You daredevil!
1960: Things Get Radical
T-shirts took off from there. In the 1960s, people decided that regular white t-shirts were kind of boring, so they started printing messages on them and making them tie-dye. And that opened up a whole new psychedelic world, dude. T-shirts became a new way of expressing yourself and your opinions.
2011: T-Shirts Forever
Pretty soon more people were picking up on this new awesome way to make a statement. The free market went to work, and there was a sudden, huge proliferation of t-shirts. Music fans buy t-shirts of their favorite bands. Activists wear t-shirts with political messages. People buy t-shirts from their favorite movies. Tourists bring back t-shirts from places they visit. Thanks to the Internet, people buy shirts with random funny sayings on them. And if you still can’t find a t-shirt that interests you, you can even make your own custom t-shirt – anything you can imagine!
Maybe in two hundred years we’ll all be wearing funky jumpsuits like in The Jetsons or Star Trek…but for now, t-shirts rule the world!
That is a brief summary of why you’re likely wearing a t-shirt right now. You might even be wearing two t-shirts, one on top of the other (the world record, if you’re counting, is 224 at once). So now you know the real reasons that guy next to you is wearing a “Chuck Norris Forecast: Cloudy With a 90% Chance of Pain” t-shirt!