The history of the T-shirt: From underwear to symbol of rebelliousness
- Mums Tips
- Fashion & Beauty
- Published on Wednesday, 14 July 2021 07:25
- Last Updated on 14 July 2021
- Monica Costa
- 0 Comments
These days T-shirts are so common and so widely used that we might not even notice them unless they carry messages that the individuals want to express.
I have gone back in time to see where the T-shirt has come from.
In Victorian times sailors in the British Empire and in the USA used t-shirts to protect themselves from adverse weather. Later on, workers started using t-shirts not just inside factories but also outside.
Shortly before WW1, the U.S. Navy helped popularise the T-shirt by adopting it as a part of its uniform.
During WW2 soldiers were photographed wearing T-shirts and this is when it became associated with the concept of war hero and heroic masculinity.
But the boom in T-shirt’s popularity surged thanks to Marlon Brando who played the character of Stanley Kowalski in A Street Car Named Desire (1951). The photograph of Brando wearing a tight-fitting biceps-caressing white T-shirt went around the world and boosted sales of T-shirts. Brando became a male sex symbol overnight and Men’s T-Shirts became symbols of working-class rebelliousness.
Similarly, James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Steve McQueen in the ‘60s started wearing jeans, desert boots and a tight tee not just on-screen but also in their day-to-day life.
In the late ‘70s, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Maclaren wore T-shirts to express the ideals of the punk movement taking place in Britain then.
Over time t-shirts have changed drastically in style, fabric and colour to reflect the trends in everyday fashion including associations with provocative movements. Since the early ‘70s, the T-shirt has become the garment of choice for sharing political, artistic, ideological messages and slogans.
More recently, in 2017, Katharine Hamnett London designed a ‘Cancel Brexit’ T-Shirt with printed instructions on the back of this design to inform people what they could do to stop Brexit. Profits from this t-shirt sales were used to help spread the Cancel Brexit message further and support grassroots campaigning.
These days the T-shirt is often used as a marketing tool to share all sorts of brand messages. It is also used by celebrities to express themselves fully and create a personal and unique style.
Monica Costa founded London Mums in September 2006 after her son Diego’s birth together with a group of mothers who felt the need of meeting up regularly to share the challenges and joys of motherhood in metropolitan and multicultural London. London Mums is the FREE and independent peer support group for mums and mumpreneurs based in London https://londonmumsmagazine.com and you can connect on Twitter @londonmums