In the long, tangled web of fashion history, there are few garments that have had the influence and mass appeal of T-shirts (also called T shirts, t shirts, or tees for short). There is something about the basic nature of collarless cotton (or polyester—yuck!) that has allowed people for the past half century to champion causes, support teams, commemorate concerts, and show off what they believe in, all without saying a word.

Today, T-shirts surround us. They are given away for free at sporting events, used by colleges to promote themselves, and worn by packs of schoolchildren so their teachers can identify them.

T-shirts were not always a part of the mainstream, however. In fact, from their invention in the early 20th century as an undergarment for men in the military until the 1950s, wearing a T-shirt in public would have gotten you some sour looks.

It was not until 1954 when Marlon Brando wore a T-shirt on screen in “The Wild One,” and a year later when James Dean sported one in “Rebel Without a Cause,” that the notion of wearing T-shirts as outerwear gained acceptance. Maybe it was Brando and Dean’s sex appeal, or perhaps it was a sign of changing times, but the legendary photographs of both men in their tightly cropped T-shirts spurred a snowballing fad that is still going strong today.

In the decades that followed, T-shirts picked up steam from the rebellion and flower power of the 1960s and the consumerism of the 1970s. T-shirts became microphones for political activists, advertisements for companies and movies, and souvenirs for concert-goers.

Many T-shirt collectors today try to accumulate old rock concert T’s. While some of the most famous and collected rock T-shirts come from world-famous groups like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, concert T-shirts actually originated earlier: with The King himself.

One of Elvis’ fan clubs printed the first rock concert T-shirt in the late 1950s. Despite Presley’s popularity, rock concert or music personality T-shirts did not become fashionable until the late 1960s, when impresario Bill Graham promoted West Coast bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. Some of the earliest and most collectible vintage T-shirts advertise those groups and others associated with the San Francisco music scene. Vintage tie-dyed shirts from this era are especially prized...

Earlier rock T-shirts tended to be basic and informational. Lynyrd Skynyrd broke that mold with its famous shirt based on the Jack Daniels whiskey logo. Black Sabbath shattered conventions even further with its baroque, hyper-busy T-shirts.

The list of collectible rock groups is lengthy, but a few with the most memorable T-shirts include The Clash, The Sex Pistols, and Pink Floyd. Rock T-shirts are not only desired by T-shirt collectors, but also by collectors of music or specific band memorabilia.

At the same time that rock tees were gaining popularity, political T-shirts were entering mainstream culture. Today we have all become accustomed to seeing the faces of politicians and slogans for various causes on T-shirts, but this trend only began in the 1960s.

Most famous are Che Guevara T-shirts, which were first worn by Fidel Castro supporters in 1967 but have since become symbols for idealism and martyrdom. Guevara T-shirts are easy to come by, but few collectors feel complete without one. Modern day T-shirts of defiance are comparatively tamer and include those with the “Parental Control” label on them, or punk and skate T’s made by companies like Bones, Vision Street Wear, Gator, and Thrasher.

As with the Che T-shirts, oftentimes these simple articles of clothing capture the cultural sentiment of a particular time and place, so many collectors use T-shirts to literally collect history. For this reason, the early screen-prints are popular collectibles. At the time they were made, these shirts were state of the art—they could be produced in minutes while the customer waited. Some of the most popular early screen-prints included novelty T-shirts with instructions for solving Rubik’s Cubes, but many more featured unique, personalized messages.

Concert promoters and bands used T-shirts early on to create brand awareness, but Hollywood turned the practice into an art. Movies like “Batman,” released in 1989, made T-shirts that not only promoted the film, but also appealed to T-shirt collectors as well as collectors of film memorabilia and comic-books.

Of course T-shirts are also associated with sports teams. Sports-memorabilia collectors will often purchase shirts to wear to games, to hang in their homes, or to commemorate an especially sweet championship. For example, many New York Yankees fans had to have a shirt trumpeting the team’s status as World Series Champions in 2009, just as Boston Red Sox fans did in 2004.

While T-shirts are usually associated with men’s clothing, they are also designed for women. Women’s tees are often given flattering so-called “baby doll” cuts, and many women wear oversize T-shirts in lieu of pajamas as bedtime attire. Mainstream fashion companies such as Gap and Abercrombie have tried to capitalize on the popularity of T-shirts by selling shirts to men and women alike with their brands and logos on them, while some websites such as Threadless produce T-shirts in limited editions that routinely sell out.

What just about all T-shirts have in common, though, is their fragile nature. Even straightforward designs like the one for “Batman,” which features a bright yellow logo on a black shirt, are susceptible to damage, which can devalue them. The inked rubber surface on shirts is easily damaged—it can stick to adjoining surfaces and often breaks down faster than the shirt it adheres to. Many collectors will sprinkle their most prized shirts with talcum powder to avoid the sticking issues.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)



The history of 20th-century women’s fashion largely played out in the pages of magazines such as “Harper’s Ba… [read review or visit site]

The Black Tie Guide

The Black Tie Guide

Peter Marshall became an authority on formalwear out of necessity — he needed a tux to wear on the maiden transat… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

1960s Fashion and Textiles

1960s Fashion and Textiles

Put on your go-go boots and check out this wavy, groovy tribute to 1960s fashion and textiles, courtesy of the Vict… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Fashion Guild

Vintage Fashion Guild

While primarily designed to steer buyers to online vintage clothing shops, this blog is chock full of interesting, … [read review or visit site]



Bursting at the seams with content, this site contains hundreds of pages of fashion and costume history, including … [read review or visit site]

The Antique Corset Gallery

The Antique Corset Gallery

Take a deep breath, and check out this sparse, simple, and beautifully designed site showcasing 250 years of corset… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare Vintage 1970s 80s Nike Sunglasses T-shirt XlVintage 70s 80s Harley Davidson Rayon Raglan T Shirt Medium Biker Tri Blend #1Vintage Harley Of Cincinnati T-shirt '80s Skull & Crossbones Over Wings RareVintage 80s Adidas Rayon Trefoil T Shirt Medium Tri BlendVtg 70s 80s Ringer T-shirt Lot M-l Screen Stars Racing Shirts Fast Lane DaytonaVintage Rolling Stones Concert T-shirt Concert Jersey Tour Shirt 1981 Md RockVintage Iron Maiden T-shirt/tank Top 1984 Aces High Size M 80's Heavy MetalThe Cramps Wild Psychotic Teen Sounds Punk Rock Concert T Shirt Screen Stars LVintage Official Alice In Chains Jar Of Flies Concert T-shirt White Xl 1994Vintage Punk T Shirt Quicksand Vintage 70s 80s Harley Davidson Ringer T-shirt, Sz M / L - Zook's Des Moines IaVintage 70s 80s Star Wars Paper Thin Faded T Shirt Medium Super SoftVintage Punk Hardcore T Shirt Ch3 Channel ThreeAuthentic Vintage My Bloody Valentine T-shirt X-large Shoegaze 90sRare Vintage Official Slayer Tour 1994 T-shirt Brockum Xl Jesus Pentagram RockRolling Stones Love You Live Mick Jagger Rock Concert T Shirt Hanes LRare Vintage The Rolling Stones Steel Wheels Tour 1989 T-shirt XlNos Vtg Bud Green Ringer T Shirt 80s Deadstock Mint! Tri Blend Soft Rayon SmallRare Vintage The Kinks Uk Jive Across America Tour T-shirt XlVintage Hang Ten T-shirt Size L Surf Skate Made In The Usa Brown Striped Tan RedDanzig Iii Dirty Black Summer Tour How The Gods Kill Official T-shirt 1992 GlennVintage Virginia Beach Va Triblend Rayon Ringer T-shirt Small S XsTrashed Vtg 80s Rayon Tri-blend Adidas Trefoil Sheer Paper Thin Ringer T-shirt LVintage 90s Stone Cold Steve Austin 3:16 Wrestling Jersey T Shirt Wwf Wwe LOriginal Vintage Rolling Stones Steel Wheels Concert Tour T Shirt Size LVintage Willie Nelson 1979 4th Of July Picnic T-shirt-mediumVtg 80's Def Leppard "hysteria Tour 1988" Rock Concert 50/50 Original T-shirt LVtg Skid Row Original 1989 Tour T Shirt Makin A Mess Rocker Soft & Thin LargeVintage 80's Prince And The Revolution T-shirt Xl Pre-owned Made In Usa 50s Vtg Cotton Jersey T Shirt Southland Baseball Sleeve Tee 1950s Sweatshirt Vtg 90s The Simpsons Saddam Hussein Cartoon Funny Operation Desert Storm T ShirtVtg Freddy Krueger Nightmare Elm Street 5 T Shirt Thin Soft Metal Horror 80sVintage Ozzy Osbourne Diary Of A Madman T-shirt Never Worn 1991 Rare XlVintage Rock T Shirt Bruce Springsteen & The E-street Band The Boss Is Back! XlVintage 90's Pearl Jam Grunge Rock Concert Promo Tour T Shirt SoundgardenLife Of Agony - Ugly, Rare! Vintage 1995 Concert T Shirt L / Xl80s Charlie Daniels Band 1980 T Shirt Med 50/50 Vtg Thin Raglan Concert Tour Vtg 80s Velva Sheen Triblend Coast Guard T-shirt Rayon Blend Mix Jersey Ringer Vintage 1981 Ozzy Osbourne Blizzard Of Ozz Tour T-shirt V Neck Jersey 80s L/xlAdidas Brand Logo Rare 70s Tricolor Trefoil Thin Soft Soccer T Shirt Xl Hip HopVintage T Shirt Mickey Mouse CowboyVintage 1981 Jefferson Starship Modern Times Tour T-shirt Jersey 80's M MediumVintage Retro 1986 Original Ted Nugent "nugent Kicks A--!" Concert Tour T-shirt Grateful Dead T-shirt 1965 - 1995 30 Years Large90s Vintage Red Tag Nike T Shirt "andre Agassi A2" Sz Medium Tennis NrTrue Ventage 1980's Bruce Spingsreen 3/4 Sleeve T-shirt Med SizeVintage Unworn Weetabix T-shirt Promotional Give Away Retro 1988 Olympic GamesTrashed Vintage 70s Yamaha Motorcycle Wisconsin Paper Thin T-shirt L Biker 80sVintage 1988 Adidas Usa Olympics Paper Thin T-shirt Medium Buttery Soft 80sNos 90's Vintage 1990 Twin Peaks Sheriff Dept Promo T Shirt Xl David LynchVintage Usa Molly Hatchet Metal Band Rock 1981 Concert Beatin' The Odds T Shirt Ultra Rare Vintage Front 242 Tyranny For You Tour 1991 T-shirt XlRare Original 1979 Led Zeppelin Knebworth T Shirt New Barbarians. Size W SmallVtg 1987 80s Guns N' Roses Appetite For Destruction Gnr 50/50 T Shirt ConcertNos Vintage Testament The Ritual Concert T Shirt Jersey Trash LgMarilyn Manson Satanic Army Satan's Bakesale Official 1994 Concert T-shirt XlVintage 1990 Samhain Punk Rock Concert Promo T Shirt Misfits Glenn Danzig RareVtg Chanel Screen Stars Oversized Xxl T Shirt 80s Dress Soft 50/50 Deadstock Vtg 1986 Harley Davidson Bike Week Daytona Beach Fl 80s T Shirt Small Vintage Retro 1988 Original Whitesnake World Concert Rock Tour T-shirt Jersey

Recent News: T-Shirts

Source: Google News

How many T-shirts is too many?, September 1st

I note that it wasn't problematic when she's needed an 'old T-shirt' to wear while doing some painting in the past, but now that she "cannot move for bloody T-shirts" we have an issue in need of resolution. I've got three pairs of trainers and a watch...Read more

Alpha woman gives new life to discarded T-shirts, is finalist in Martha ...
The Express-Times -, August 31st

The 2002 Phillipsburg High School graduate started designing her children's clothes, re-purposing discarded T-shirts to make the appliqué designs. Since Montilone honed her craft and launched her TrashN2Tees business in 2010, she's diverted more than ...Read more

Retail Therapy: Vintage T-shirts, local urban wear hot items at e'rth Shop
Fresno Bee, August 31st

Vintage T-shirts are a big seller, but what makes the store different is the work by local street artists, which ranges from paintings to T-shirts to stickers. "I mix it up a lot," she says. "I'm aiming for e'rth to be a home for this local talent and...Read more

Rick Perry Is Selling T-Shirts With His Mugshot On It
BuzzFeed, August 27th

For a minimum donation of $25 you can get a t-shirt with Rick Perry's mugshot on it. Perry's political action committee RickPAC began selling the t-shirts Wednesday. View this image ›. Via ...Read more

Back-to-school basics: Which budget T-shirts hold up the best?, August 27th

T-shirts are a back-to-school staple and an essential underpinning of a fall wardrobe. For many families, stocking up on cheap basics becomes an annual ritual, as hems inch up the torsos of growing kids and discolored fabric demotes old tees to sleepwear...Read more

Zara Withdraws T-Shirts After Accusations Online of Anti-Semitism
New York Times (blog), August 27th

Updated | LONDON — The Zara T-shirt called the “Sheriff” went on sale online at 2 a.m., London time, on Wednesday. Within a few hours, it had sparked a social media outcry, with many Twitter posts accusing the clothing company of anti-Semitism — or...Read more

Hundreds Swarm South Loop Store For Jackie Robinson West T-Shirts
CBS Local, August 26th

CHICAGO (CBS) – At least a couple hundred people lined up Tuesday morning in the South Loop for a chance to buy some of the limited-edition T-shirts celebrating the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars' national title in the Little League World Series...Read more

Rick Perry Selling Double-Mugshot T-Shirts
ABC News (blog), August 22nd

RickPAC is selling t-shirts bearing the mugshots of Perry and Rosemary Lehmberg, the Travis County District Attorney at the center of the governor's indictment. The front of the t-shirt features Perry's mugshot with a stamp that says “WANTED” and the...Read more