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]

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    

Vtg 82 Black Flag Pre Rollins My Rules Nyhc Rare Concert Tour 80s Band T ShirtVery Rare Vintage 1980s New Unsold Anthrax Not Mosh It Up Rock T-shirt MediumVtg 1984-88 Nike Blue Tag Check Mark Rainbow Swoosh Blue T-shirt M/l Made Usa Vintage Cramps T-shirt - 1986 - Can Your Pussy Do The Dog - Date W/ Elvis TourVintage 80s Ac/dc Heavy Metal Concert Tour T-shirt JerseyRare Vintage W/ticket Original 1987 Iron Maiden Concert Tour T ShirtRare Vtg 80's Powell Peralta Skate Skeleton Long Sleeve T Shirt Size LVintage 1980s Joe Camel T-shirtVintage 3d Emblem Truckers Only T Shirt 1988 Harley Davidson Style Thinned!!80s Lrg Tag Med Vtg Rayon Tr-blend New York Yankees Heather T-shirt Soft ThinVtg 80s Original Lou Reed New York Promo T-shirt Punk Velvet Underground LVtg 1986 50/50 Paper Thin Harley Davidson Bald Eagle T Shirt Sz Xl By 3d Emblem Vintage 80s Aerosmith Rock In A Hard Place Rock Concert Tour T-shirt RingerVintage 1960s Strip T-shirt Lord Clayton Large Nos[kp-3]vintage ϼVintage Cramps Punk T Shirt Psychobilly Rock An Roll3 Vintage 1950s 60s T-shirt Set Healthknit Large Nos70s Xl Tag Med Vtg Garfield Cat Joliet Jr. College 50/50 Jersey T-shirt SoftVintage Nirvana 90s Grunge Unisex T-shirt Large Size Super Rare!Rare Vintage 1980s New Unsold Twisted Sister I Wanna Rock T-shirt Jersey SmallRare Vtg 70s 80s Harley Davidson Motorcycle Biker Womens T-shirt Tucson ArizonaVtg 80s Sid Vicious Punk Rock Sex Pistols Promo Tour Concert T-shirt M Made UsaVtg 1988 Paper Thin 50/50 Army T Shirt Sz Small By 3d Emblem Rocker Biker RetroVtg 1988 Paper Thin 50/50 Army T Shirt Sz Small By 3d Emblem Rocker Biker Nos OgThe Who American Tour 1982 Vintage T-shirt, 3/4 Sleeve, Size MVtg Depeche Mode Promo T-shirt Paper Thin Tissue Soft WhoaNirvana T Shirt Vintage Dante's Inferno Sub Pop Fudge Packin Crack SmokinVtg 80s Blue Tag Nike Graphic Burnout Unisex Running Track Thin 50 50 T Shirt Vintage Prince "doves Cry / Purple Rain" Very Rare 1984 Concert T-shirt (m)[kp-4] Vintage Deadstock 1987 3d Emblem Motor Harley Davidson Cycles T-shirt 80s Lrg Tag Med Vtg Scuba Diving Vest Tank White 50/50 T-shirtRare Vintage 82 New Unsold Never Worn Journey Esc 4p3 Tour Rock T-shirt Xl Vtg 70s Leslie Arwin 1978 Human Anatomy T Shirt Punk Misfits Skeleton LargeMudhoney Australian Tour 1990 Vintage T-shirt Xl Grunge Punk Sub Pop Nirvana[kp-2] Vintage 1988 3d Emblem Just Brass Inc, Skull Snake T-shirt Made In UsaVintage Original The Cramps 1990 Concert T Shirt Sz XlRare Vintage 80's Pil Public Image Ltd Punk Tour Concert Xl 1989 Tour T-shirt80s Lrg Tag Sm/med Vtg Primo Beer Hawaii's Best Yellow Ringer 50/50 T-shirt SoftVintage Led Zeppelin T-shirt 4 PackVery Unique Bob Marley - Wailers - Haile Selassie T-shirt - ReggaeRare Vintage 1982 New Unsold Riot Restless Breed Brooklyn Rock T-shirt Sm MintOriginal Black Flag "slip It In" Tour 84-85 T-shirt Sleeves CutVtg 1991 Paper Thin 50/50 Army T Shirt Sz M By 3d Emblem Marine Skull Rocker T 90s Xl Tag Lrg Vtg Guns N Roses Use Your Illusion Ii Tour 91 Concert T-shirt Triumph Thunder Seven Vintage 1985 Concert T Shirt Size Lg Very Good ConditionVtg 80s 1985 3d Emblem Home's Where Harley Davidson Is Schott Thin 50/50 T-shirtRare Vintage 80s Narc Rodeo Cowboy Western Thin 50/50 Soft T-shirt M/lVintage 90s Nice Man Butthole Surfers 96' Europe/n.america Music Tour T-shirt 47Vtg 80s U.s. Marines Semper Fit Rayon Triblend Gray Thin T-shirt M/l Made UsaVtg 1990 Depeche Mode Tour T-shirt L Vince Clarke Goth Electro Synth Punk WaveVintage 1987 Whitesnake Concert Tour T Shirt Metal David Coverdale Sz:m/lVintage 3d Emblem T-shirt Stealth Fighter DeadstockVintage 80s Mickey Mouse Florida Beach Dive T-shirt S/m Walt Disney Surf Thin[kd-1] Vintage Gulf Coast Sportswear Gray Rayon Tri-blend Ringer T-shirt Vtg 80s Levi's 84 Olympics T-shirt Los Angeles Rare Heather Grey 1984Vtg 1983 Billy Idol Rebel Yell Tour Concert Rock Band T-shirt True Vintage M 80sVintage 1990 Nine Inch Nails Sin Nin Tour T Shirt Xl Autographed By Trent ReznorVintage Htf 1999 "all" Punk Tour Concert Large T-shirt Descendents NofxVintage 80s Metal Hair Band Motley Crue 50/50 T-shirt LargeRare Vtg 80s Motocross Wrangler Paper Thin Soft 50/50 Motorcycle V-neck T-shirt

Recent News: T-Shirts

Source: Google News

A Crowdfunding Platform for T-Shirts
NewsFactor Network, October 31st

Known as "the front page of the Internet," Reddit is moving into new territory with the launch of a crowdfunding platform called Redditmade. Announced on Wednesday, the platform rolling out in open beta allows Reddit users to design and create t-shirts...Read more

#ATLOpeningTip T-Shirts to be handed out for home opener
Peachtree Hoops, October 31st

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead. Forgot username? We'll email it to you. If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead. Forgot password?...Read more

High School Football T-Shirts Banned For Promoting Rape Culture
Opposing Views, October 31st

A high school has banned football players from wearing T-shirts made to motivate their team after complaints about rape culture. The Arlington Martin High School parent booster club made the T-shirts for the players to wear to celebrate their team. A...Read more

Busy Philipps and daughter Birdie don matching T-shirts over Halloween costumes
Daily Mail, October 30th

Busy Philipps and mini-me daughter Birdie pulled double duty on Thursday as they went from Halloween dress-up to red-carpet store opening in support of their good friend. The pair slipped on matching grey printed T-shirts featuring a puppy and two ...Read more

Joe Maddon models T-shirts for charity
Chicago Tribune (blog), October 30th

During the 2014 season, Maddon began wearing T-shirts promoting charitable causes to his postgame news conferences. It began with a July 26 tweet asking charities to send him shirts with a promise that he would wear them, and he did so the rest of the ...Read more

NBC 5: Arlington ISD bans Martin football's 'just let it happen' T-shirts
Dallas Morning News, October 30th

The Arlington Independent School District has banned a high school football team T-shirt with the slogan "Shhhhhhh just let it happen" after the school newspaper's editorial staff questioned whether the message was a rape innuendo. The shirt was...Read more

SpeeZees T-shirts teach kids about endangered species
Treehugger, October 30th

When you buy one of these adorable organic cotton T-shirts, $1 will be donated to an organization working to protect the animal featured on the shirt. Three years ago, a little girl named Nadia came up with an idea to help save threatened and...Read more

Royals World Series T-Shirts to hit the shelves
Kansas First News, October 29th

TOPEKA (KSNT) -Once the Royals take back the crown in Game 7 of the World Series, t-shirts will be hitting the shelves. But at Academy Sports + Outdoors in Topeka, the T-Shirts will be hitting the shelves the second the Royals take the crown. “As soon...Read more