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

The VFG is a non-profit international educational organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of vinta… [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]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Cro-mags near Death Xl European Tour 1993 T-shirt Warzone Nyhc Gorilla Biscuits1987 Iron Maiden Vintage Metal Rock Concert Tour T-shirt (tee Shirt) 1981 Ozzy Osbourne Vintage Metal Rock Concert Tour T-shirt Jersey (tee Shirt)Slayer | Original 90s T-shirt Xl Vintage Sodom Protector Massacra Slayer VoivodVtg 70s 80s Nike Tri Blend T-shirt Orange Swoosh Tag M L Rayon Air Thin Burnout1987 Guns N' Roses Vintage Metal Rock Concert Tour T-shirt Jersey (tee Shirt)Vtg 80s Tampa Florida Sunset Rayon Tri-blend T Shirt Heather Gray Large L (s13)1988 Iron Maiden Vintage Metal Rock Concert Tour T-shirt (tee Shirt) 1986 Iron Maiden Vintage Metal Rock Concert Tour T-shirt (tee Shirt) 1981 Black Sabbath Vintage Metal Rock Concert Tour T-shirt (tee Shirt) Carnivore Original 1987 T-shirt Rare Vintage Metal Type O Negative Slayer Thrash80s Vintage Ridin Hogs Pickin Up Chicks Hawg Harley Davidson 3d Emblem T Shirt SVintage Rare! 1980s 3d Emblem Easyriders Black Hills Reaper Biker Harley T Shirt1984 Van Halen Vintage Metal Rock Concert Tour T-shirt Jersey (tee Shirt)1990 Public Enemy Vintage Metal Rock Concert Tour T-shirt Jersey (rap Tee Shirt)Dinosaur Jr Rare 90s Tour T-shirt Xl Vintage Hüsker Dü Punk J Mascis Black FlagGuns And Roses Metallica Live 92 T-shirt Concert Xl1984 Iron Maiden Vintage Metal Rock Concert Tour T-shirt (tee Shirt) Vintage Iron Maiden 1985 California Slavery Concert Your 3/4 Sleeve T Shirt SVtg 80s Mickey Mouse Front/back Rayon Tri-blend ? T Shirt Heather Gray Lrg ? (s71986 Poison Vintage Metal Rock Concert Tour T-shirt Jersey (bret Tee Shirt)Vintage 80s Truckers Only Soft Thin 3d Emblem T Shirt Harley RockerNirvana Incesticide Xl Anvil T-shirt 1993 Kurt Cobain Montage Of Heck 1990sCarcass Vintage T Shirt Tour 92 Entombed Morbid Angel Bolt Thrower Obituary RareVtg 80s 1984 California Beach Rainbow Surf Sunset T Shirt Cream Large Hawaii S181982 Ac/dc Vintage Metal Rock Concert Tour T-shirt Jersey (tee Shirt)Vtg 80s Classic Walt Disney Mickey Mouse Ringer T Shirt Heather Blue Med (s10)Madonna | original European 1987 Tour T-shirt | who's That Girl World Tour Septic Death Burial Vintage Pushead T-shirt 1990 | Punk Hardcore Gism Gauze KbdVtg Harley-davidson Motor Cycles T-shirt Biker 50/50 Thin 1985 Rare 3d Emblem LSheer Terror Rare European Tour 1993 T-shirt Xl Warzone Vintage Gorilla BiscuitsRare Vintage Men's Barclay Play Shirt T-shirt 50s 60's Mad Men Retro Abstract 1984 Twisted Sister Vintage Metal Rock Concert Tour T-shirt Jersey (tee Shirt)Vintage Morrissey T Shirt 1990's Morrissey Alternative Rock T-shirtLot Of 14 Vtg 80's Souvenir Disney Concert Paper Thin X2 Nike Soft T Shirt M / LNeurosis Souls At Zero Tour 1992 T-shirt Xl Amebix Eyehategod Melvins Sleep Doom1983 Sammy Hagar Vintage Metal Rock Band Concert Tour T-shirt Jersey (tee Shirt)Vtg 80s Classic Walt Disney Mickey Mouse Ringer T Shirt Heather Gray Med ? (s11)Vtg 80s Classic Walt Disney Mickey Mouse Ringer T Shirt Heather Gray Lrg ? (s8)Sinister Rare 90s Tour T-shirt Vintage Bolt Thrower Monstrosity Immolation DeathVintage Cocteau Twins Four Calender Cafe T Shirt Xl 1992-93 Album Rock 4 BandOriginal Vintage Nike Air Jordan Michael Blue T Shirt Blue Tag Men's LargeVtg Harley-davidson Motor Cycles T-shirt 50/50 Thin Distressed Outlaw Biker Rare1981 Ozzy Osbourne Vintage Metal Rock Concert Tour T-shirt Jersey (tee Shirt)Vintage 80s Harley Davidson 3d Emblem T Shirt Lot Survivor Hog SkullVintage 70s 80s Harley Davidson T Shirt For The People By The People 3d Emblem LNapalm Death Vintage T Shirt 92 Death Metal Brutal Truth Cannibal Corpse Autopsy1989 Dangerous Toys Vintage Metal Rock Concert Tour T-shirt Jersey (tee Shirt)Vintage T-shirt 1988 10k Road Race/ Walk The Civilized War Tri-blend Rayon LargeNeurosis Rare Tour 1991 T-shirt Xl Vintage Amebix Eyehategod Melvins Sleep Doom[ma5] Vintage 80's Adidas Martinsville Artesians T-shirt Small Made In UsaVintage The Flaming Lips T Shirt #6 90's Rare Alternative Psychedelic PunkVintage Playboy T Shirt!!! Awesome!!1989 Grateful Dead Vintage Metal Rock Concert Tour T-shirt Jersey (tee Shirt)1989 Warrant Vintage Metal Rock Concert Tour T-shirt Jersey (tee Shirt)Authentic Original " Madonna " Debut T-shirt The Virgin Tour 1985 Boy Toy Inc.Vtg 80s Uss Saratoga Cv-60 Beach Shore Sunset T Shirt Tan/beige Large ? Usn (s17Original Vintage " Talking Heads " T Shirt " Bantam " Brand 1980's David Byrne [ma3] Vtg Sherry 70's 80's Walt Disney Productions Florida Mickey Ringer T-shirt1983 Black Sabbath Vintage Metal Rock Concert Tour T-shirt (tee Shirt)

Recent News: T-Shirts

Source: Google News

HILLSBOROUGH: Cheerleaders selling 9-11 T-shirts
Packet Online, September 4th

Orders need to be to Mark Brownlie by noon on Sunday, Sept. 6. All shirts are short sleeve and are $10 each (youth medium, youth large, and adult S, M, L, XL, XXL). Students and football fans will be wearing these for the opening night home high school ...Read more

Love Maps? These Minimalist T-Shirts Are Your Chance To Wear One
Visual News, September 4th

It's no secret that we love maps, so give us the ability to wear one and we'll take it. Alex Szabo-Haslam is currently running a Kickstarter campaign featuring a massive collection of maps printed in T-shirts. Each of his minimalist designs uses data...Read more

13 Cool Literary T-Shirts Perfect For Any Book Lover Going Back To School
Bustle, September 4th

Heading back to school? Do it in style, but don't let your love of books go unnoticed this school year. Show off your love for all things literature with a cool literary T-shirt. What better way to tell the world that you're a well-read genius than by...Read more

Local Couple Creates Bracelets and T-shirts In Support of Alison and Adam
WSET, September 3rd

Roanoke VA-- A local married couple is doing their part to support Slain WDBJ Reporter and Photographer Alison Parker and Adam Ward. Sara and Mikel Cubberley created bracelets and t-shirts in honor of the two shooting victims. They say they hope the ...Read more

Snarky T-shirts sell — especially in New Hampshire
Boston Globe, September 3rd

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Here, amid the raunchy and the raucous, is the political, which makes sense given this is New Hampshire. And at I like That, a custom T-shirt shop where nothing is sacred except a sense of humor, even democracy comes with a bit of ...Read more

MLS players to wear special Soccer Kicks Cancer T-shirts for Childhood Cancer ...
MLSsoccer.com, September 3rd

Major League Soccer announced on Thursday that players will wear special Soccer Kicks Cancer T-shirts during pregame festivities throughout the month of September, raising awareness and funds for children's cancer research and treatment. MLS WORKS ...Read more

Fall football fashion: 'Guschamp,' 'State of Auburn' T-shirts among popular trends
AL.com, September 3rd

Trey Johnston, owner of J&M Bookstore, said that several specialized items are what's currently trending right now with Tigers fans, including Spirit Jerseys, "State of Auburn" T-shirts, "Star Wars"-themed apparel, "Boom!" merchandise, new styles of...Read more

Natives blast T-shirts adorned with beer bottles, dream catchers
Lincoln Journal Star, September 3rd

“Any correlation drawn from the imagery included in the T-shirts designed solely for celebrating the lot (and its popular namesake) and the supposed derogatory statement towards the Native American community is totally unintentional and misguided...Read more