History of T-Shirts
Perhaps one of the most essential clothing garments to this date, the simple white t-shirt has evolved throughout history. Although predominantly worn by men as undergarments or work-wear, the classic shape soon translated itself to women’s fashion and became an iconic staple piece. With developments in the last century you are even able to design your own t-shirt today...
The Very First T-Shirts
T-shirts were first worn for pure practicality; and originally, only by men. Having evolved from one-piece undergarments in the 19th century, the US Navy began issuing t-shirts to be worn under uniforms in 1913. The crew-necked, cotton t-shirts became a popular bottom layer of clothing for workers nationwide – a t-shirt was cheap, comfortable, easy to clean, and easy to fit. For this reason, it became the default garment for men to wear whilst doing farm or ranch chores, as well as whilst at work in a variety of industries. However, it was still technically seen as an undergarment, making it scandalous to be seen out in public in one.
The Evolution of T-Shirts for Women
It was in the 20’s that fashion began to enter the modern era; women finally began to abandon the super restricting fashions of the past, such as overly tight corsets, impractical skirts, and layers upon layers. Comfort became a key factor in clothing, and separates (known as ‘co-ords’ today) grew in popularity as they allowed women to mix and match outfits whilst still owning fewer items. Coco Chanel began using jersey knit to create women’s garments as early as 1916. Although they weren’t technically t-shirts to begin with, there were plenty of knit tops in classic t-shirt shapes by the 20’s. Boat neck versions of knit tops were commonly seen for sportswear or on the beach in the second half of the era. Design your own t-shirt and matching leggings to create modern ‘separates’.
Practicality Over Aesthetics
During the war, it wasn’t just men who needed practical clothing. As women went to work, safe clothing was a necessity to prevent garments from snagging in the machinery and becoming a hazard. Women began to wear men’s trousers to work in factories, and these were generally paired with a top that resembled a classic t-shirt – even if it wasn’t necessary labelled that way at the time. This led to trends such as high-waisted trouser suits which were made popular by Katherine Hepburn.
Around the mid 40s, short-sleeved jumper style tops made an appearance, which were intended to be worn under playsuits or with dungarees. The ingredients for the t-shirt as we know it today were there, although you wouldn’t have commonly seen grown women wearing these things on the street for many years to come. These garments were still predominantly for practical use, whether it was for work, chores, or gym class at school.
A Change in Social Acceptance
Once women had experienced the comfort of unrestricted movement whilst working during the war, they understandably didn’t want to go back to restrictive clothing of the past. The wardrobes of men and women began overlapping, with women beginning to wear trousers and bohemian style bottoms in the 1930’s, becoming mainstream in the 1950's. During the 50’s and 60’s women began adopting the t-shirt as we know it today, alongside jeans, shirts and cardigans. Comfort was king, and the fashion of the genders began to merge. Although the question of women wearing ‘men’s clothing’ was still discussed well into the 60's.
Functionality & Fashion
T-shirts not only served as a staple piece of fashion throughout history, but they also had a function. Printing logos, slogans or other visuals on t shirts was a means of identifying the wearer of the shirt with an organisation. This could have been anything from a sports team to a political movement or university, and in the 1930's American colleges began printing t-shirts for their students. The notion of printed t shirts developed in the 1950's and 60's with developments in technical printing processes and materials, such as screen printing, tie-dying, transfer prints and spray paint. T shirts became a form of communication, with many notable t shirts produced in the 70's and 80's becoming a huge part of pop culture such as the Rolling Stones ‘tongue and lips’ and the iconic ‘I <3 NY’ design. Design your own t-shirt with a vibrant logo or slogan to make a similar statement.
Materials Over Time
T-shirts have always been created from similar materials throughout history. When they were first issued to the US Army, they were made from inexpensive cotton due to the cheap material and the fact that they were easy to clean as well as easy to wear. A jersey knit made cotton t-shirts stretchy and comfortable, as well as being breathable. To this day jersey cotton is one of the most popular choices of t-shirt fabrics, which are often made in a variety of thicknesses and stretches.
Design Your Own
One of the best things about a t-shirt is that it can be a blank canvas – if you could design anything on a t-shirt, what would you design? Think about the style you’d love to represent; colours, font, images, whether your t-shirt is minimal or busy, sleek or fun. One of the most versatile items in fashion can be made just to suit you.