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.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
The Black Tie Guide
Fashion Columbia Study Collection
1960s Fashion and Textiles
Vintage Fashion Guild
The Antique Corset Gallery
Clubs & Associations
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: T-Shirts
Source: Google News
A Crowdfunding Platform for T-ShirtsNewsFactor 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 openerPeachtree 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 CultureOpposing 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 costumesDaily 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 charityChicago 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-shirtsDallas 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 speciesTreehugger, 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 shelvesKansas 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