Ten Coool Facts about T-Shirts, Decade by Decade

Posted by Bob Namar on

For more than100 years, graphic tees have integrated themselves into America's fashion, function and fandom.  Here's a decade-by-decade look at the history of the tee shirt in America.

1. In the late 1800s, an early image of baseball's Baltimore Orioles (who would move to NY and become the Yankees in 1903) show players with half-sleeved logo shirts, possibly the first graphic tee produced in the U.S.

2. In 1913, the U.S. Navy officially adopted what is considered the first American t-shirt. The collarless undershirts featured a “crew” neckline, short sleeves, and more fitted “T-shape.” The sleeves of the early design were shorter, hitting about mid-bicep and the shirt’s crew neck was wider.

3. Throughout the First World War, Sailors wore them under their uniforms and only used them as outerwear when performing physical labor or cooling off in hot climates.

4. In the 1939 film Wizard of Oz, the first graphic tees appeared in a major motion picture. Workers fixing up the scarecrow are seen wearing bright green tee shirts with "OZ" printed in white.

5. The military started using graphic tees with names of branches and training programs on them. In the late 1940s, after WWII, men continued wearing their graphic tees, a practice that connected masculinity and sex appeal with graphic tees.

6. The popularity of the graphic tee skyrocketed at the start of the 1950's. Marlon Brando popularized the t-shirt after wearing one in the film A Streetcar Named Desire. That same decade, Tropix Togs obtained the original license to print Walt Disney characters on tees.

7.In the 1960s, counterculture took advantage of the fashion trend and communicated the era's attitudes towards sex, politics, drugs, and more

8. The 1970s saw organizations began to understand their marketing potential, further influencing the trend. The logo tee was born and throughout the decade was quickly embraced by bands looking to promote themselves.

9. In the ‘80s, mainstream brands such as Calvin Klein and Adidas produced logo-branded tees, which became wildly popular.

10. By the 90s hip hop culture was integrating the graphic tee into hip-hop and rap music, while surf and skate themes took hold as well.

      At its core, the graphic T-shirt has been and is the cornerstone of streetwear. Sneakers play a part and headwear is happening too, but it's really all about T-shirts.
      Let's face it, the graphic T-shirt is a great fashion equalizer, and it is the medium for a message. Over the decades, the T-shirt has continued to be a symbol of the times.  At the end of the day, T-shirts are still king.