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”)

MyVintageVogue

MyVintageVogue

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]

Fashion-Era

Fashion-Era

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



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Dinosaur Jr Punk T Shirt 90's Alternative Shoegaze J Mascis Sonic Youth Vintage The Flaming Lips T Shirt 80's Punk Alternative PsychedelicVintage 70's/ 80's Nike Swoosh Logo Rayon Tri Blend T Shirt Youth Xl Dead Stock!Vintage Black Sabbath Tour T Shirt 1975 L Metal Punk Stoner Ozzy MosquitoheadVintage New Order T Shirt 80s M/l Joy Division Factory Records Post PunkVintage Pj Harvey Dress T Shirt Xl 90s Nick Cave Bjork Punk Indie AlternativeVintage Agnostic Front Victim In Pain T Shirt 90s Xl Punk Hardcore Nyhc Cro-magsVintage Murphys Law America Rules T Shirt L 80s Punk Hardcore Nyhc Cro-mags Rare Vtg 90s The Cramps T-shirt Punk Rock Band Concert Tour Rockabilly Bad MusicVintage Metallica Jump In The Fire T Shirt 80s Thrash Metal Punk Megadeth SlayerVintage Dead Kennedys Concert T Shirt 84' M Punk Sex Pistols Misfits Black Flag Vintage Jesus And Mary Chain T Shirt Xxl Punk Indie Shoegaze My Bloody ValentineVintage 1986 Harley Davidson Forged In Our Souls T Shirt 3d Emblem Sz L 80s VtgThe Jesus And Mary Chain Rare Vintage 80’s 90’s Tee T Shirt Vintage Black Sabbath Ringer T Shirt Xl Metal Punk Stoner Ozzy MosquitoheadVintage Twin Peaks Log Lady T Shirt M 90' Stanley Desantis David Lynch[mu3] Vintage Chincoteague Island , Virginia Sunset T-shirt The Jesus And Mary Chain Vintage 80’s Soft Thin Concert Tour Tee T Shirt Biohazard Vintage Urban Chaos 94 Tour T-shirt Nyhc Hardcore Men's Xl DisciplineVintage 1985 Harley Davidson 3d Emblem T Shirt Size L 80s VtgVintage Poison Idea War All The Time T Shirt Punk Hardcore Black Flag True Vintage The Smiths T Shirt There Is A Light That Never Goes Out 80's MozzVintage 80s 3d Emblem Trucker T Shirt The American Way[mn5] Vintage Adidas Trikot Tennis T-shirt Medium Made In UsaVintage 80s Skid Row Youth Gone Wild Making A Mess Of The U.s T Shirt Sz S 34-36Harley Davidson Rare Cigarettes Vintage 80’s Soft Thin 50/50 Tee T Shirt Ex! Vintage 90s Butthole Surfers Rock Concert T-shirt Mens XlVintage Melvins T Shirt L 80s 90s Punk Metal Doom Nirvana Butthole SurfersVintage 70s 80s Nike Tri Blend T-shirt Orange Swoosh Tag Medium Rayon Gray AirVintage T Shirt Lot Of 20 80s Soft & Thin Shirts Screen Stars Etc Mostly MediumVintage La's Wasted Youth 86 Tour T Shirt M Punk Harcore Germs Circle JerksVintage Iron Maiden 1998 Virtual World Tour T-shirt Xl New Fear Of God Vintage 88' Harley Davidson 3d Emblem Black Hills Sturgis T-shirt Size LargeVintage Charles Manson Charlie Dont Surf Graphic Print Thin T Shirt Rare Vintage Brockum Guns N Roses Graphic All Over Print T Shirt 90's Sz Xl NiceHawaii Rare Vintage 1974 70’s Ellis Applebaum Vacation Tee T Shirt Vintage 1996 Red Hot Chili Peppers Tour T-shirt - Band Rhcp Rock & RollAmerican Trucker Truckers Only Vintage 80’s 3d Emblem Soft Thin Tee T Shirt 1987 Motorhead Eat The Rich T Shirt 2 Sided Size L Rare Vintage Original LemmyBiohazard Vintage State Of The World Tour T-shirt Nyhc Hardcore Men's XlVintage Class Of Nuke Em' High Promo Movie T Shirt 80s Xl Troma Horror TrashU2 Boy Vintage 1987 Rare Soft Thin 50/50 Concert Tour Tee T Shirt Ex! Vintage Camel 75th Birthday T Shirt Sz Large Nib★.nike..medium..vintage..beaverton Oregon..t Shirt.★.top Tee Retro Swoosh TopTropix Togs Vintage 1976 Mickey Mouse Cotton T-shirt Sz SVintage Harley Davidson 3d Emblem The Last Biker On Earth T Shirt LMinnie Republic On Safari Mouse Disney Vintage 80’s Soft Thin 50/50 Tee T ShirtVtg 60s 1962 Usn Vietnam Issued Blank White Cotton T-shirt L 42-44 Named PollockBauhaus Bela Lugosi’s Dead Vintage 80’s 90’s Goth Punk Tee T Shirt [mv6] Vintage Adidas Labatt's National Capital Marathon T-shirt Made In Usa[mu4] Vintage Dead Stock Kingswear James Dean Gray T-shirt Made In UsaVintage 60s Lee Distressed Paper Thin Solid Heather Gray Rayon Medium T-shirtVintage 1940s -1950s Rockabilly Era Striped Surfer / Skater Tee / Ringer T-shirtRare Vintage 1991 Leader Of The Pack Truckers Only T Shirt 3d Emblem HarleyNos Vtg 70's Hang Ten 50/50 Brown Stripe Knit Surfer Skate Surf Logo T-shirt Xl[mv4] Vintage Hawaii Beach T-shirt Made In UsaVintage Harley-davidson Motorcycles 1991 Maui Cycle Co Kaanapali L T-shirtEurythmics The Revenge Tour Rare Vintage 1986-87 Rock Concert Tour Tee T ShirtVintage 1991 Acdc Tour T-shirt - Band Ac/dc Rock & RollVtg 90's Marilyn Manson Industrial Metal Rock Horror Concert Promo T Shirt L/s

Recent News: T-Shirts

Source: Google News

Stanley Chow has Designed These Limited Edition Street Fighter T-Shirts
God is a Geek, June 30th

So these Street Fighter t-shirts are pretty great. I'd wear one, actually, as it appears they come in my size (“husky gentleman”, for those keeping score) and have this cool Blanka tee. And this cool Ken tee, and, well, you get the point, right? If you...Read more

Tale of the T-shirts: Urban Outfitters vs. 13 Bricks
Connect Savannah.com, June 30th

Along with distasteful PR disasters like the Navajo flask flap of 2012, the company has long been lambasted for co-opting original artwork for its cheap duds without permission, including miniskirts bearing designer James Soares' graphic prints and T...Read more

Teen's art features on T-shirts for new label
Illawarra Mercury, June 30th

Rideika Wright, 16, took part in the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience and was invited along with 21 others to participate in a paid internship, with her artwork featured on AIME Apparel T-shirts. The square graphic features a lizard to...Read more

'Friends' group offers T-shirts to benefit Vice
Demopolis Times, June 29th

The community support for a local man facing a battle with cancer continues to grow and the latest effort allows for even more people to lend a helping hand. The Friends of Tommy Vice is now offering T-shirts in support of Vines for $15. Thanks to the...Read more

Bobby Jindal campaign push includes new ad in Iowa, T-shirts
The Advocate (blog), June 29th

A political action committee supporting Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's presidential campaign is hitting the airwaves in Iowa. Believe Again released the “We are All Americans” ad on Monday. The ad uses clips of Jindal touting his view that the use of ...Read more

There Are Still Confederate Flag Shirts for Sale in Wildwood
Philadelphia Magazine (blog), June 29th

In the early 1990s, stores sold anti-gay t-shirts featuring the Trix rabbit. Gov. Christine Todd Whitman got involved. General Mills talked with its lawyers. People protested in Belmar. A boycott of stores selling anti-gay shirts was organized. You don...Read more

There are Texas A&M t-shirts that say "Bama's got nothin' on us"
247Sports.com, June 29th

After a school achieves an important victory over a hated rival, retailers will often make and sell t-shirts to commemorate the historic victory. Rarely, though, is such an attempt made following a staggering 59-0 defeat against a team against whom you...Read more

Reinventing T-Shirts
PYMNTS.com, June 29th

And while those brides and grooms will receive thousands of pieces of advice about the secrets to a long and happy marriage – no one will even mention the role that T-shirts can play. And yet an inevitable day will come when the couple will look around...Read more