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From jeans to blazers, almost every piece of clothing requires the partnership of T-shirts to look perfect. Swiftly follow the history of this undergarment-turned-classic designer piece that has become the staple of every wardrobe today.
Have you noticed how men’s T-shirts resemble the alphabet ‘T’ in shape? The shape made by the sleeves and body is the reason behind the name of this popularly worn piece of clothing. No matter which country you are in, T-shirts are sold more than any other piece of clothing around you.
Over the years, men’s style has evolved to highlight T-shirts as the main piece of clothing. Today, it is used by people of all ages to express their choices through the medium of different prints. Going back to the 19th century, shirts were more popular and commonly worn. T-shirts started much later than them as underwear for men in the U.S. Navy. It was much later in the 1980s when it was first used for the promotion of a brand (Coca-Cola).
Let’s read further to explore the history of this modern tool of self-expression.
The Early Years
The first mention of T-shirts is done in combination with bottom wear. In the 19th century, the now-T-shirts were stitched with bottom wear to create a one-piece suit with buttons. They were called union suits. Today, these types of clothing are referred to as onesies. However, union suits are tighter and more body-hugging than onesies. They were made in this fashion as underwear for regular clothing.
During this century, laborers started modifying these newly-created onesies. Due to the scorching heat of summers, they felt uncomfortable working with one-piece clothing that was tightly worn over their skin. They started cutting them in half to keep their bodies cooler.
By the time of the Spanish War between 1898 and 1913, the U.S. Navy introduced separate clothing resembling T-shirts. They were known as undershirts and worn like one to prevent chaffing from the metal armors that protected their bodies during war. This concept was introduced much earlier in the 1880s. However, it was only formalized during the Spanish War.
Hollywood and Rebellion
In the 1910s, ‘Fruit of the Loom’ started the mass production of T-shirts. Sportsmen at the college level started wearing them in the 1930s. During that decade, an American retailer used the term cotton ‘gob’ to describe T-shirts. A gob was an American slang used for sailors who first wore them in the late 19th century.
Despite being a part of the market for so long, the official name of the famous ‘gob’ was first inducted into the dictionary in 1920. F. Scott Fitzgerald was the first person in the world to use the word T-shirts‘ in his novel ‘This Side of Paradise.’ While referring to the clothes packed by a character in the novel, Fitzgerald compared sweaters with T-shirts. He wrote about it as ‘one sweater or T-shirt.’ That’s how the piece of clothing got its name.
In 1939, the first promotional men’s T-shirt was designed to promote ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ But in the real sense, T-shirts only became popular after Hollywood rebels like Marlon Brando and James Dean wore them in their movies. They were framed as rebels for wearing then underwear as a standalone garment. However, the popularity of T-shirts skyrocketed after their use in Hollywood.
Which Fabric was Used for the Men’s First T-shirt?
As you might have realized by now, the 19th century was a year of introduction and fame for the then newly-introduced T-shirts. The introduction of the then new knitting technology helped in the mass production of versatile and comfortably fitted T-shirts. If required, manufacturers and designers could refine the fabric of the end-product by mixing any or all of the fabrics like wool, calico, and jersey.
T-shirts made with knit wool were recommended by Hygienists in the 19th century for protecting people against the harsh cold. They asked women to replace their corsets with this piece of clothing to shield against bodily diseases.
In the second half of the 19th century, British sailors were asked to wear white flannel T-shirts for protecting their bodies on the deck. Looking at the versatility and comfort offered by the knitted fabric of the T-shirts, even the working-class men started wearing them on weekends as informal wear.
When the T-shirts reached the U.S., their Navy used cotton-knit tightly fitted pieces instead of the ones used in Britain. Following this popularity, P.H. Hanes Knitting Company started the small-scale production of T-shirts in 1901 in a knitted fashion.
Today, Vogue Men has introduced many kinds of T-shirts around the world. There are vestige T-shirts, printed T-shirts, and patterned T-shirts out of thousands of styles that are being used. The rich history of this garment helps us appreciate the trends of men’s style over the years.