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]

Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Circle Jerks 1985 Vintage Wonderful Tour T-shirt, 1-sided, White, L-xl 80's PunkBlack Flag 1985 Vintage Loose Nut Tour T-shirt, 2-sided, Orange, L-xl 80's Punk12 Vtg 70s 80s Harley Primo Beer Hawaii Tri Blend Rayon T Shirt Lot Vtg Harley Davidson Motorcycle 3/4 Baseball T Shirt Hot Rod Nos 50s 60s 70s PunkSuicidal Tendencies 1980's Vintage T-shirt, 2-sided, Powder Blue, Xl, Skate PunkVtg 72 The Who Rock Concert Tour All Cotton Rare 70s Band T Shirt Vintage The Cramps Skull T-shirt Xlarge Pyschobilly PunkVintage 1960's Stp Drag Race Hot Rod All-over Print Cotton T-shirt -hanes- NrVtg Iron Maiden 1987 Tour T Shirt Thin Soft Eddie Lives 87 80s Rock Metal RareVtg 89 Red Hot Chili Peppers Mothers Milk Grunge Rock Concert Tour 80s T Shirt Vtg 93 Razor Ramone Wwf Wrestling All Over Print Rare 90s Soft Thin T ShirtVintage Concert T-shirt Iron Maiden Shirt Eddie 1985 World Slavery Tour SeymourVtg 1980's Nuclear Assault Brain Death T-shirt, Thrash Heavy Metal Dri OverkillVtg Harley Davidson Motorcycles Los Angeles Sportswear 50/50 T-shirt 70's-80'sVintage 1990 Iron Maiden Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter Concert T-shirt XlVtg 81 Rolling Stones Rock Concert Tour 80s Burnout Thin Raglan Jersey T Shirt Vintage 1986 Iron Maiden The Phantom Of The Opera T-shirt (xl)Metallica And Justice For All 1989 Tour Vintage 4 Covers T-shirt XlVtg 81 82 Allman Brothers Rock Concert Tour 80s Soft Thin Raglan Jersey T ShirtVtg 85 Harley Davidson 3d Emblem Home 80s Paper Thin Cycle Punk Rock T Shirt 2 Vtg 70s 80s Maui Hawaii Poly Tees Soft 100% Cotton Tourist T Shirt Lot Vintage 80s Harley-davidson Motorcycle T-shirt M 50/50 Paper Thin Soft 3d UsaRare Vtg 70s Leather Nike Duffle Bag Pack 80s Orange Pinwheel Tag Era T Shirt The Clash Vintage 80s T Shirt XlVtg 80s Florida Palm Tree Sunset Rayon Tri Blend Grey Heathered T-shirt Med MVtg 88 Zelda 2 Nintendo Nes Video Game Promo Soft Burnout Thin 80s T Shirt Med(xxl/l) Vintage 1986~ Harley Davidson~ Hawg Wild~ 3d Emblem~ Shortsleeve T-shirtVtg 1980 Springsteen Rock Concert Tour 80s Soft Paper Thin Rare Band T Shirt SmMudhoney Enter Fudge Vintage T-shirt 1991 Xl Grunge Punk Sub Pop Metallica Rare!4 Vtg 80s 90s Harley Davidson 3d Emblem Cycle Soft Thin Mc Biker T Shirt Lot Vintage Clash T-shirt "give'em Enough Rope" SmallVintage 70s Adidas Tennis Rainbow Trefoil Logo Light Blue 50/50 T-shirt Medium MVtg 87 Guns N Roses Metal Rock Concert Tour 80s Soft Thin Wuz Here T Shirt2 Vtg 94 Grateful Dead Chicago Tye Dye Rock Concert Tor 80s 90s T Shirt Lot LCute Vintage 1970's Mickey Mouse Ringer T-shirt Walt Disney Cartoon AnimationVtg 77 Beatles Pop Rock Concert Tour 70s Nos Rare Band T Shirt Vintage Harley Davidson 3d Emblem T Shirt Medium Biker RockerNike Swoosh Blue Tag Vintage 80s Lavender Purple T-shirt M Soft 50/50 Retro Tee6 Vtg 80s 90s Harley Davidson Eagle Soft Thin Punk Rock Mc Cycle T Shirt Lot Vintage 90s Maui And Sons - T-shirt - Beach SurfingCute Vintage 1980's Minnesota Fish T-shirt, Triblend Rayon Blend Heather BlueVintage 3d Emblem Harley Davidson T-shirt Biker Motorcycle Bald Eagle SoftailVintage 3d Emblem United States T-shirt Soft & Thin Usa July 4th Native AmericanVtg 80s 1986 3d Emblem Truckers Only Thin 50/50 T-shirt Biker Rare Willd & FreeT-shirt Vintage "et" 1982 Mens Medium Chest Sz 40"Vtg 91 Grateful Dead San Francisco Concert Tour All Over Print Rare 90s T ShirtOriginal 1980 Grateful Dead T Shirt From Original Owner - LargeVintage Adidas Trefoil T-shirt 70's 80's Old School Sports StripesVintage Disney 80s Nos Donald Duck T-shirt Large Soft Thin Mickey No ReserveVintage New Kids On The Block T Shirt 80s Concert Rock Pop New Wave Authentic Vintage 80s Nike Football Blue Tag Soft Thin T Shirt MediumMc5 Vintage T Shirt Xl80's Chaka Khan Iconic Retro Art,graphic,t- Shirt, Size L ,unworn, Nos, L@@k!Metallica And Justice For All 1988, Very Rare Vintage Concert T Shirt, White XlVintage Genuine Gucci Men's T Shirt Polo White Green Red Stripe And BadgeVtg 86 Rowdy Rod Piper Wwf Wrestling Hot Rod Punk Rock Paper Thin 80s T Shirt MVintage 80s 1989 Nkotb New Kids On The Block Pop Music Concert Tour T-shirt SzlVintage The Cramps T-shirt Bad Music For Bad PeopleVintage 90s 80s Primal Scream T-shirt Creation Records Jesus And Mary Chain MbvVtg Ed Roth Rat Fink Deadstock 1994 T-shirt M Long Sleeve Big Daddy Hot Rod Surf

Recent News: T-Shirts

Source: Google News

Boston D Party T-Shirts!
Pats Pulpit, January 24th

Hey everyone! We're starting to try and come up with great t-shirt ideas for Patriots fans. This is our first and it's for the Super Bowl! 1. These are custom tees, printed on demand as they're ordered, and they normally take up to 10 business days to...Read more

Upcycle old T-shirts: 5 new things you can make without spending money, January 24th

T-shirts are pretty much a staple item in everyone's wardrobe, and very cheap to pick up in charity shops. But they can be a little on the boring side. Here are five ideas for either jazzing them up and changing them, or re-purposing them into...Read more

T-shirts revisit speech debate
Port Huron Times Herald, January 24th

Controversies have emerged across the country when members of different basketball teams have worn "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts — a reference to Eric Garner, a 43-year-old African-American man who uttered the phrase while being placed in a neck hold by ...Read more

Local t-shirt company strikes again with Deflate Gate design
WISH-TV, January 23rd

Once the Deflate Gate scandal broke, requests for Deflatriots t-shirts came almost immediately. “Hundreds, I don't even know how many,” said Vardagen employee, Bethany Petersen. “Like last time, print out tons of labels and start stuffing bags as best...Read more

DIARY FROM MELBOURNE: Eugenie Bouchard's fans go corporate with T-shirts ...
Daily Mail, January 23rd

Eugenie Bouchard has a worldwide 'Genie Army' of fans which began in Australia last year. They were were out in force for her 7-6, 6-0 win over Caroline Garcia but it's become a bit corporate now — they all wore matching T-shirts sponsored by a...Read more

T-Shirts To Support Kyle MacIntosh Available Online, January 22nd

BOULDER— T-shirts to support University of Colorado sprinter and hurdler Kyle MacIntosh are now available at The cost is $10 and proceeds will go directly to the MacIntosh family to help offset medical costs. MacIntosh was diagnosed with ...Read more

After a Tragedy, the Memorabilia
New York Times, January 21st

New year, new tragedy — new fashion statement? What else to think from the spate of “Je suis Charlie” products flooding the web, from T-shirts to aprons, bracelets, buttons and sweats? It began almost immediately after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo...Read more

Thousands of Seahawks NFC Championship T-shirts being printed
KIRO Seattle, January 19th

At Silk Screen Co. in Seattle, thousands of T-shirts are being printed -- T-shirts that almost never made it out of the box. "We would be at home, probably doing dishes right about now,” said Sergio Dias with Silk Screen, where they printed NFL Players ...Read more