The t-shirt is one of the world’s most popular garments. Around the globe, people browsing in stores and shopping online for fresh tops shirts are buying t-shirts by the thousands. It’s likely that a good percentage of people reading this article right now are wearing a t-shirt. You’ve probably got several of them folded in your bedroom closet or dresser drawer. But have you ever wondered why the t-shirt is so universally popular?
Origin of the T-shirt
T-shirts were originally worn as undergarments by U.S. Navy sailors, beginning in the early 20th century. Because it was cheap to mass produce and easy to clean, the t-shirt quickly became part of the standard uniform worn by all U.S. military personnel. Eventually, starting in the 1950s, the notion of wearing t-shirts as all-purpose casual outerwear (rather than simply as undershirts) became popular among the general U.S population, particularly once cultural trend setters such as American movie stars began wearing them.
Evolution as Global-Wide Fashion
In the decades following the 1950s, t-shirts flourished as a popular clothing item throughout the world. Masses of consumers from North America to India and elsewhere bought and wore them as an increasingly common part of their wardrobe. Because they are inexpensive, lightweight, durable, comfortable, and versatile, t-shirts are an ideal fashion staple that crosses cultural boundaries and meets the fashion requirements of lower and middle class populations around the world. This is one of the main reasons why the t-shirt has remained a relevant and popular fashion item to this day.
Beyond Fashion: A Form of Personal and Political Expression
However, the t-shirt’s attributes as an affordable and practical fashion item only partially explain its universal appeal. What truly makes the t-shirt stand apart is its use as a unique vehicle for mass media advertising and personal and political expression. Beginning in the 1980s, screen printed t-shirts became a popular fashion item. Originally, printed t-shirts commonly featured images that were designed to facilitate mass marketing of companies and products, such as product logos, advertising logos, and designer brand names. This was also a form of personal expression in as much as it reflected the intense consumerism that was such a big part of 1980s popular culture. However, beginning in the 1990s and continuing until today, t-shirts have evolved to incorporate a much wider range of political and social expression – everything from ironic and humorous (even crude) statements to controversial statements designed to attract attention or generate support for a political movement or social cause.
With all this rich history behind them, it’s not surprising that t-shirts are so enduringly popular. They have become more than just fashion items, more than just clothing – they are instruments of expression and beacons that reflect the cultural trends of the societies in which we live.
Your familiar and comfortable t-shirt has been on an incredible journey, from simple undershirt to worldwide cultural phenomena. And that’s why it’s so much more than just a shirt.