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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T-shirts of the week 7-25-14. Updated: Friday, July 25 2014, 07:05 PM EDT. West Sparta "Old Fashioned Day"- tomorrow (7/26) -West Sparta Town Hall- All Day Check it out online 585.335.5094 http://bit.ly/1nyxj9G. The 41st Annual Waterfront Art Festival...Read more
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BUFFALO, N.Y. — A volunteer firefighter battling leukemia won't have to buy T-shirts any time soon. The Associated Press reported that Dave Blank, of the North Boston Volunteer Fire Company, told a nurse he wanted to wear T-shirts from other...Read more
EDITORIAL: T-shirts show faith in future graduatesSanford Herald (registration), July 25th
Commemorating that right of passage, the United Way of Lee County has provided T-shirts for Lee County's rising first-graders. Its outreach, Project PK-14, focuses on the importance of pre-kindergarten through “grade 14,” or the first two years of college...Read more
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Kathryn Hodson, left, and Julie Mendez, co-directors of the Deming Visitor Center, sport the latest in summer fashion. The T-shirts are on sale at the center. (Elena Ruiz — Headlight Photo). Be the first on your block to sport the 2014 Great American...Read more
Journal Jog T-shirts feature bascule bridge, Lakeview fountainThe Morning Journal, July 24th
Journal Jog T-shirts feature bascule bridge, Lakeview fountain. Michael Allen Blair/MBlair@MorningJournal.com Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer and Louise Kilbane, executive assistant, model the 2014 Ritenauer Run At The Journal Jog t-shirts. By Richard ...Read more
FREE T-Shirts, music and more on We Believe in Colorado DayThe Denver Channel, July 24th
On Friday, August 1 beginning at 10.30am, 7NEWS will kick off the event by giving away FREE Colorado flag T-shirts and has partnered with Denver Pavilions to provide the community with a place to enjoy live music and each other at Glenarm and 16th ...Read more
White Girl Wasted: Wildwood boardwalk's king of t-shirts has 6480 for saleThe Star-Ledger, July 21st
The Shore's most colorful t-shirt salesman is having a bad day. "This is the (worst) summer of my life,'' Baruch Cohen moans. He uses a word much worse than "worst'' and one we can't use in a family newspaper. Many of the sayings on the t-shirts he...Read more
Washing T-shirts with salt doesn't make them vintageWISC Madison (blog), July 20th
The best type of clothes are the kind that you feel great in, and super soft vintagey T-shirts will always be my favorite. It's those T-shirts that never lose their shape, fit perfectly and come out of the wash feeling super soft and comfy...Read more