The T-Shirt: A History

First introduced by the US Navy around the time of the Spanish American war, the t-shirt was used in a purely functional sense as an undergarment for soldiers’ uniforms. Still used pragmatically by soldiers and shoppers alike, the t-shirt has evolved from archetypical army garb into a garment more suited for everyday fashion, with some help along the way.

The t-shirt was iconized by Marlon Brando and James Dean in two classic films of the 1950’s, A Streetcar Named Desire and Rebel Without a Cause. These films established the t-shirt as the unofficial uniform of the working class, further solidified over the next few decades by other blue-collar icons like rock star Bruce Springsteen.

In the 60’s and 70’s, the t-shirt was frequently used as a canvas to express political statements and cultural emblems as societal structures began to be questioned more openly and the rock n’ roll generation took hold. We saw the emergence of quintessential designs like the Rolling Stone’s tongue design and the Grateful Dead’s dancing bears, as well as ironic statements like the classic “Frankie Says Relax” print, made famous as a response to BBC’s explicit rating and ban of a song by the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood. These classic graphics set the stage for the plethora of designs and t-shirt sales that would follow for decades after.

By the 90’s, t-shirts were an intrinsic part of the mainstream fashion aesthetic. However, it was Karl Lagerfield’s 1991 fall collection for Chanel, in which white tees were featured under the brand’s iconic tweed cardigan jackets, that elevated the t-shirt from mainstream to high fashion.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Today, with the onset of a utilitarian aesthetic that emerged out of Japanese street style, the introduction of “normcore,” and the growing impact of the sustainable fashion movement, the fashion world has moved away from frivolity towards quality basics.

The perfect t-shirt is essential for any season–start your search here.

 The Verbiage Tee: T-shirts with words splayed across their chests have been used historically to do everything from advertise, inspire, and inform.

Soft-to-the-touch with a message that uplifts, this 6397 tee looks great under a blazer for a fun yet polished look.

Crafted from the highest quality cotton, Commune de Paris’ Touriste Pocket Tee is an elevated basic that stands alone.

The Basic Tee: Although it may be the most ubiquitous of all t-shirt types, the perfect plain white tee can feel like the rarest of commodities.

This Homecore tee is the perfect lightweight basic. It’s crafted from a soft breathable linen blend and features the brand’s signature red stitching down the back.

Labo.Art is a brand built for uniform dressing. This 100% cotton tee features raw, curled hems, adding character in the most subtle and tasteful of ways. Where this tee with, well, anything!

The Graphic Tee: Although they can be found everywhere from gas stations to high-end retailers, a simple and classy graphic tee can be hard to come by.

This all-over printed tee from Épice is bold without being abrasive. Wear it with a pair of jeans for a simple yet playful look.

A singular bold-faced image can be just as eye-catching. Take a nod from the king himself and throw a leather jacket over this R13 Elvis tee to give a straightforward outfit an edge.

Previous post Next post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published