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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Uniqlo Releases New Line Of Epic 'Star Wars' T-Shirts Just In Time For 'May ...Huffington Post, April 27th
"Star Wars" nerds across the country can awaken the force a bit early this year. Uniqlo on Monday launched a "Star Wars"-inspired T-shirt collection featuring 23 tees designed by various artists who submitted designs for a competition. The launch comes...Read more
Christian Printer Punished by the Gov't for Refusing to Print Gay Pride T ...TheBlaze.com, April 27th
A Christian printer who was previously found guilty of discrimination for refusing to print T-shirts for a gay pride parade won big Monday after a court ruled that he can decline to print messages that run in opposition to his religious views. The...Read more
Court Upholds Right of Christian Company Not to Print T-Shirts With 'Gay Pride ...Christian News Network, April 27th
Hands On LEXINGTON, Ky. – In the first decision of its kind upholding the rights of a Christian business, an appeals court has ruled that a Christian t-shirt company did not violate the law when it declined to print t-shirts for a local “gay pride” event...Read more
Black Lives Matter Protesters Stock Forever 21 With 'Never 21' T-ShirtsGothamist, April 27th
Posing as employees at Forever 21 Union Square, a group of Black Lives Matter protestors managed to clothe the front-window mannequins in "Black Lives Matter/Never 21" T-shirts on Saturday afternoon. Protesters also dropped a banner with the same ...Read more
You HAVE To See The Beckhams Wearing Matching T-Shirts To Support Romeo ...MTV UK, April 27th
Victoria and David Beckham, plus sons Brooklyn and Cruz, made the ultimate fashion statement at Sunday's London Marathon as they wore matching 'Team Romeo' T-shirts to support the 12-year-old as he ran the children's race. Rocking her white tee with a ...Read more
"The Idolm@ster" 10th Anniversary Full Color T-Shirts and TowelsCrunchyroll News, April 27th
As part of The Idolm@ster franchise's 10th anniversary project, full color T-shirts and sport towels featuring the 13 members of 765PRO ALLSTARS will be available at Bandai's official online store Premium Bandai and Bandai Namco Entertainment's LaLaBit ...Read more
Straight Outta Kauffman T-shirts as hot as RoyalsKCTV Kansas City, April 24th
The seventh inning of Thursday's Kansas City Royals vs. Chicago White Sox game got ugly when both benches cleared in a large fight.More >. The seventh inning of Thursday's Kansas City Royals vs. Chicago White Sox game got ugly when both benches ...Read more
Wizards giving out red, white and blue #dcRising T-shirts at Game 3Washington Post (blog), April 23rd
The Wizards are giving out #dcRising T-shirts to all fans at Friday's Game 3 against Toronto. Like during last year's playoffs, fans will receive a red, white or blue shirt depending on where they're sitting. Shirts will be arranged by section, as they...Read more