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.
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Basil Prints T-shirts Using Tourism FundsSunday Leader, February 13th
During the last Uva Provincial Council elections, former Economic Affairs Minister Basil Rajapaksa had given instructions to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority to print 8,000 T-shirts to the value of Rs. 5.22 million promoting the United...Read more
Captain Kirk T-Shirts On Sale To Benefit FoundationLos Alamos Daily Post, February 13th
The famous Captain Kirk T-Shirt is now available for purchase in the United States by PayPal (firstname.lastname@example.org) or local pickup. Shipping is $3 per shirt. Cotton T- $20, Dri-Fit- $30, Adult Sizes: S-2XL. All proceeds benefit the Alex Kirk ...Read more
Michigan basketball to wear #ChadTough T-shirtsBig Ten Network, February 12th
Michigan men's basketball head coach John Beilein announced that he, along with his staff, players and members of the Michigan student section, will wear #ChadTough T-shirts for Saturday's Big Ten clash with Purdue. “All of us were moved by the fight ...Read more
Kanye West Selling T-Shirts With His Mother Donda and the Late Robert ...PEOPLE StyleWatch, February 11th
Kanye West is eternalizing the memory of his late mother and father-in-law, Donda West and Robert Kardashian. According to a tweet from Complex magazine's deputy editor, the rapper sold T-shirts — which seem to be exact replicas of the one he wore...Read more
Company printing Beast Mode T-shirts marking his unique retirement tweet ...Q13 FOX, February 11th
SEATTLE -- A silk screen company in Ballard is printing T-shirts celebrating Marshawn Lynch's unique tweet on Feb. 7 announcing his retirement from football -- and thanking him for his remarkable run with the Seahawks. The store Simply Seattle printed...Read more
10 Dumbest T-Shirts Ever Worn During a MugshotLawNewz (blog), February 11th
Pro-tip: Never wear a stupid t-shirt if you're going to get arrested. It will make for an awkward, and pretty funny mugshot. These 10 people had the ill fortune to get cuffed while touting some ridiculous apparel. [All pictures belong to the law...Read more
Slogan t-shirts: The politically-charged fashion statement is being revivedThe Independent, February 11th
In recent weeks we have lauded an LGBT protester and entrepreneur in Burma who prints T-shirts with "Gay is OK" on them (in a country where it decidedly still isn't); rowed over whether an Australian bakery making employees wear "We've got the best...Read more
UM will wear pregame T-shirts to support ChadToughThe Detroit News, February 11th
The Wolverines will wear special T-shirts in warmups to honor Carr, the grandson of former Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr who died last year at the age of 5 of an inoperable brain tumor. Michigan plays Purdue at 2 p.m. Saturday at Crisler Center...Read more