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    

Vintage Agnostic Front Cause For Alarm Tour 1986 T Shirt Nyhc Cro Mags Madball 80s Vintage Ridin Hogs Pickin Up Chicks Hawg Harley Davidson 3d Emblem T Shirt SVtg 80s T Shirt Adidas Trefoil Rainbow Surf 5050 Poly Cotton L 41" Chest Vintage 1980's Joe Camel Ringer T-shirt Paper Thin Tee Gt Challenge CigaretetteVintage Iron Maiden The Beast On The Road 1982-83 Tour T-shirt80s Vintage Levis Usa Olympics Gray Ringer Rayon ? Blend T Shirt XxsVintage 90s Nirvana Smells Like Teen Spirit Concert T-shirt Original Tee - LgVintage 1985 Dio Sacred Heart Concert Tour T-shirt Rock Band Concert Tour ShirtVintage The Jesus & Mary Chain T Shirt Large Black 90s Rock Punk Grunge Vintage Harley Davidson T Shirt Xl Hd Garbage Truck Keep Beautiful Pa Willow Rare Vintage 70's Harley Davidson Winged Skull/naked Lady T Shirt Soft N Thin Vintage Harley Davidson T Shirt Getten' Even For Pearl Harbor, Blaine,mn - Sz SNirvana Bleach 1992 Vintage Long Sleeve T-shirt Kurt Cobain Sub Pop Foo FightersVtg 1988 Adidas Trefoil Three Stripes Jcpenney Marathon T-shirt S/m Made UsaVintage 90s Nirvana In Utero Seahorse T-shirt Original Rock Tee - LgVintage Harley Davidson T Shirt Eagle Righteous Ruler 1985 Lot Dyna Fat MediumVintage Lollapalooza 1992 T Shirt L Ice Cube Pearl Jam Red Hot Chili Lush Rock Xl * Vintage 90s Jawbreaker "when It Pains It Roars" T-shirt * Punk * Iron Maiden British Metal Onslaught T-shirt Vintage[mb4] Vintage Walt Disney Productions Florida Mickey Ringer T-shirt[ma7] Vintage Velva Sheen Kwajalein Rayon Tri-blend T-shirt Made In UsaVintage 80's Rare Nike Cortez Running T-shirt Oregon Og Sz S Pinwheel EraVintage 1984 Dio The Last In Line World Tour Jacket Ronnie Rock Concert T-shirt [mc10] Vintage 1993 Levi's Shirt Jeans Overalls T-shirt Large Made In UsaVintage 1991 Inxs X Tour T-shirt Size Xl Michael Hutchence Band Rock Pop World[mb7]vtg Soffe Athletic Tyndall A.f.b Florida Rayon Tri-blend T-shirt Made In UsVintage 70s 80s Naples Florida Tri-blend Ringer T-shirt Vacation Sun Beach Keys Rare Vintage 1950s 60s Hanes White Cotton T Shirt M 38-40 Deadstock NewVintage Harley Davidson Hd T Shirt Eagle Soars Alone Xl 70's 80's Lancaster PaVintage 70's Harley Davidson Ringer Style Worn Dealer T Shirt Sz SmVintage Nos Antrax "road To Euphoria" 1988 - 89 Tour T-shirt Size MVintage Harley Davidson T Shirt, A Way Of Life, Charlotte, Nc, Sz S, 3d EmblemVintage Harley Davidson T Shirt Eagle Untamed Daytona 87 Fla Xl Biker Girls LotVintage Original Life Sentence T Shirt White Hardcore Punk Chicago Naked RaygunVintage Harley Davidson T Shirt Live To Ride, Ride To Live, Charleston, Sc Sz SmVintage Harley Davidson T Shirt 70's 80's Hd Eagle Lancaster Pa Never Shadows Rare Vintage '78 Grateful Dead Bertha Kelley Mouse Rock Tour Concert T-shirt XlVintage Nike Half Shirt Crop Top Short T-shirt 1980s Small Trendy Super Soft!Vintage 3d Emblem Harley Davidson/ Texas T-shirt - Xl[lt5] Vintage Sneakers Cow Graphics Rayon Tri-blend T-shirt Medium Made In UsaVintage Harley Davidson T Shirt, A Way Of Life, Dallas, Tx, Sz S, 3d EmblemVintage Harley Davidson T Shirt I Know What's Good, Texarkana, Tx- Sz Xs - Sm1988 Ozzy Osbourne No Rest For Wicked Rock Metal Concert Tour T-shirt L VintageRare Vintage 90s Nirvana T Shirt Concert Heart Shaped Box Tour Kurt Cobain 93 Vintage Harley Davidson T Shirt Daytona Beach Bike Week 1985, Florida, Olp Sz SmVintage 70's Xl Harley Davidson 50/50 Cotton Blend T-shirt Memphis TennesseeVtg 1987 Harley Davidson Motorcycles Harleys & Good Whiskey T-shirt S Made UsaVintage Harley Davidson T Shirt The More I Learn About Yankees, New Orleans Sz SAdidas Tour Albuquerque Pwing Fleet Foot Vtg 80s Relay Marathon Blue T-shirt LVintage David Bowie 1 One Outside Tour Db 95 T Shirt L Rock Band [mb9] Vintage Walt Disney Productions Mickey Ringer T-shirt Made In UsaDeath Spiritual Healing Original T Shirt 1990s Xl X-largeVintage 1990s Soundgarden - Come Stand Me Up T-shirt Original Rock Tee - LgVtg 80s Harley Davidson Motorcycles Great American Biker Soft T Shirt TopVintage Harley Davidson T Shirt Amf Rip Boot Hill Saloon Daytona 83 Bike Week Original Rare 1980's Ed Donohue " Grateful Dead " T-shirt In Xl Size !!Vintage 1985 Dio Sacred Heart Concert Tour Jacket Rock Band Concert T-shirtVintage Harley Davidson T Shirt, Ride Hard Die Free,jersey Shore, Pa- Sz Sm -olpVtg 80s Adidas Rayon Ringer Trefoil Rainbow Green Destroyed Tri-blend T ShirtVintage 80's Bruce Springsteen E Street Band World Tour 1980 81 T Shirt Jersey L

Recent News: T-Shirts

Source: Google News

Hillary Clinton selling 'everyday pantsuit' t-shirts in her campaign store
Daily Mail, May 26th

Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas who, like Bill Clinton, also an ex-governor of the state, calls the city of Hope his home, is selling 'Defeat the Clinton Machine' t-shirts. And Paul, who frequently engages in trolling of his likely opponents on...Read more

PacSun Pulls T-Shirts With Upside Down American Flag After Outrage
Town Hall, May 26th

PacSun Pulls T-Shirts With Upside Down American Flag After Outrage. Tue, May 26, 2015. PacSun Pulls T-Shirts With Upside Down American Flag After Outrage. A black t-shirt with an upside down American Flag on it has sparked major outrage on social ...Read more

Ludhiana Police fail to file charge in Sant Bhindranwale T-shirts case
SikhSiyasat.Net, May 26th

Ludhiana, Punjab: Ludhiana police reportedly fail to present charge-sheet against Er. Mawinder Singh Giaspura in a case related to “recover” of T-shirts with Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale's photo imprints. Police had booked Giaspura in this case on...Read more

Rockets upset with Warriors for handing out T-shirts to fans in Houston
Larry Brown Sports, May 25th

The Houston Rockets are close to being eliminated from the NBA playoffs and now they're just taking their frustration out on all targets. They're even complaining about what the Golden State Warriors are doing with T-shirts. Warriors fans are among the...Read more

Wear your heart on your sleeve: 5 #RVAdine T-shirts that totally rock
RVANews, May 25th

Part pop culture homage, part inside joke–a handful of Richmond restaurant T-shirts have captured the spirit of their establishments for staff and fans to wear with pride. For Metzger Bar & Butchery and Saison, the influence is metal, and the T-shirts...Read more

Shirts sold to honor fallen officer
KETV Omaha, May 24th

The blue shirts are nearly sold out, but white shirts are available at police headquarters. The black T-shirts were designed by another Omaha police officer and are being sold at Hy-Vee stores. The First Responders Foundation is asking everyone to wear...Read more

What's Hot on Wildwood Boardwalk T-Shirts in 2015
Philadelphia Magazine (blog), May 24th

Wildwood boardwalk t-shirts are big business. Sure, you think it's all “Senior Week 2015? and “I'm not as think as you drunk I am” shirts, but this is serious business. Not everyone can be Baruch Cohen and sell 6,480 different t-shirts at his...Read more

T-Shirts For Slain Omaha Officer Flying Off The Shelves
WOWT, May 23rd

There are two different shirts that the Omaha Police Department has sent out details about. If you can't find them at a local Hy-Vee store you can also purchase them online. Here are the links to the Officer Orozco shirts. If you are asked for a...Read more