The Evolution of the Classic T-Shirt

The T-shirt. For most of us, it’s been around for as long as we can remember. It’s just as much a staple to our wardrobes as blue jeans or socks. But where did it come from?

Surprisingly, the most basic part of any outfit has an elaborate and impressive history. It began with a war, then moved to disrupting society, and is now used as an effective way for people to express themselves.

boy wearing skull tshirt

Who Thought up the Idea of a T-Shirt?

Every idea sparks from somewhere, even the simplest things. And for T-shirts, it started with the Spanish American War and long johns.

You see, the US Navy wanted an undershirt that was similar to long johns, but not so . . . long. So someone decided to cut the one-piece suit in half, shorten the sleeves, and create what we now know as a T-shirt.

T-shirts could’ve stayed that way, primarily being used in the US military, but there were better things in store for this beloved garment. The T-shirt was in for a crazy ride in the world of fashion.

Related: How James Dean Made the T-shirt a Classic Symbol of Cool

T-Shirts Were Originally for Bachelors Who Couldn’t Sew

Back in the day, men’s undershirts had buttons going down the front, like one of today’s dress shirts. This was probably one of the reasons the US Navy was so attracted to the idea of using T-shirts as undershirts. But they weren’t the only ones who thought it was a genius idea. It was a great marketing scheme as well.

Knowing that there were plenty of helpless bachelors who couldn’t sew, the Cooper Underwear Company advertised the T-shirt as a no-fuss undershirt that you could pull over your head. No need for needles or thread—the T-shirt was simple, easy, and comfortable.

man wearing tshirt that says never lose your flames

Teenagers Were the First to Wear T-Shirts Solo

Who else would be better at setting a rebellious trend? High schoolers started wearing T-shirts by themselves in the 40s. They would even add decorations like fringe or sew-on patches for style. It was a unique way for young people to express themselves. Teenagers were still in the minority of people wearing them as regular shirts, but they were loving the new style.

Related: The Story of a Classic T-Shirt

F. Scott Fitzgerald Named the T-Shirt

The T-shirt was given many names, like a “crew-neck shirt,” a “bachelor undershirt,” or a “cotton pullover.” But when F. Scott Fitzgerald first called it a T-shirt in his book This Side of Paradise, the name caught on. It made sense, as the shape of the shirt looks like a “T.” This Side of Paradise was printed around 49,000 times, and readers gobbled up Fitzgerald’s story—and his new word.

marlon brando wearing a tshirt

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Marlon Brando Made T-Shirts Popular

Fitzgerald and teenagers weren’t the only ones to shape the history of premium T-shirts. Even with their shiny new name, they primarily remained as undershirts until the 50s. But when Marlon Brando wore a premium white T-shirt alone in A Streetcar Named Desire, markets exploded with a demand for his look. The style was officially in for good.

Plain T-Shirts Were a Huge Political Statement

As the T-shirt was an undershirt, it wasn’t “proper” to wear it alone. But when Marlon Brando (and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause) wore it solo, the T-shirt became a huge statement of youthful rebellion. It was edgy, it was comfortable, and it was a statement for change in the fashion industry.

Premium T-Shirts are Timeless

T-shirts have been around for over 100 years, and they aren’t going anywhere. The T-shirt may have started as an efficient part of the US Navy’s uniform, but it’s grown to become a wardrobe staple. And now these basic pullovers have transformed into ethically-sourced, Fair Trade, premium T-shirts that are made to last.

People Collect T-Shirts

Some people collect cool things, some people collect weird things, and some people collect T-shirts. As a maker of premium T-shirts, we think that’s pretty awesome. A lot of times, there are only a few T-shirts with a specific print (such as those made for staff at a concert or for a local political campaign). Having a vintage T-shirt that was only printed 30 times makes it iconic.

woman wearing tshirt that says don't look back

People are Still Making Statements with T-Shirts

Possibly the first political T-shirts made were the ones printed for the “Dew it with Dewey” campaign. But it didn’t stop there. T-shirts are an easy and effective way to voice your opinion. Just slap a few words onto the front of the shirt, and bam! Everyone knows exactly how you feel – about Trump, feminism, or maybe even the weather.

Related: 8 Reasons Why a Classic T-Shirt Will Be Your New Favorite Shirt

So What is a Premium T-Shirt? Premium T-Shirts vs. Regular Ones

Just as with anything, quality depends on how a T-shirt is sourced and made. The higher quality a shirt is, the more you’ll be able to wear it without it breaking down on you. No one likes a shirt that frays after the third wash or gets holes within the first few months of wearing it.

Our premium T-Shirts are made with organic, ethically-sourced cotton. We take care to make sure that they’ll be your favorite tops. Our premium crew neck T-shirts are comfortable, they snap back into shape, and they’re made to last.

The history and evolution of the classic T-shirt has a riveting story. We’re keeping it going by changing the way T-shirts are made. Join the movement of ethical T-shirts by shopping our Women’s Premium T-Shirts or our Men’s Premium T-Shirts.

Related: Premium T-Shirts — Back to Basics

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