The History of the T-Shirt

The T-shirt is a simple garment with a complex history, but have you ever wondered how it became a wardrobe staple across the world with 2 Billion T-shirts sold each year in the USA and many companies now turning to custom T-shirt printing online?

It’s Getting Hot in Here!

It’s summer, you have nothing to wear, throw on a quality T-shirt and jeans, you’re good to go. However, up until the 1950’s it was not socially acceptable to wear a T-shirt in public. The first T-shirts were made by crafty miners in the early 19th Century, who, frustrated by the restrictions of their union suits, cut them in half to keep cool in the hot conditions.

The white T-shirt is like a blank canvas – eternally versatile”

Edward Enninful

Seeing the benefits of this homemade, bisected onesie, the first official T-shirts were bulk manufactured for soldiers during the Mexican-American war of 1898 and later in 1904 advertised to lonely bachelors who didn’t have the convenience of a wife to sew buttons onto their shirts.

Seeing the benefits of this homemade, bisected onesie, the first official T-shirts were bulk manufactured for soldiers during the Mexican-American war of 1898 and later in 1904 advertised to lonely bachelors who didn’t have the convenience of a wife to sew buttons onto their shirts.

T-Shirts, Camera, Rebellion

T-shirts continued to be issued as standard undergarments to the US armed forces throughout the 1900’s but it wasn’t until the 1950’s that they had their on-screen debut and the love affair with the ‘Plain White T’ began. Poster-boys of their generation, Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire and James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause appeared scandalously on-screen in plain white T-shirts, which were up until then considered undergarments and never to see the light of day let alone blown up on a cinema screen.

“It was rebellious, because T-shirts were actually undergarments … It was a tough political statement,”

Dennis Nothdruft

With the equivalent influence of a Kardashian today, Brando and Dean started a fashion revolution that ultimately would create a multi-billion-dollar garment industry, transforming the way that messages, beliefs and passions were shared forever.

Want to start your own fashion revolution? Get started with t-shirt printing online.

If You Like It Then You Should Have Put A Custom Print On It

The idea of using blank T-shirts for printing first came about in the 1960’s when Disney realised a hefty profit could be made from ordering cheap, bulk screen-printed T-shirts with their famous cartoons depicted on the front, a trend that continues to this day. Have you actually been to Disney if you don’t have a set of Mickey Mouse ears and a Donald Duck T-shirt? 

Thanks to the Punk movement of the 1970’s, T-shirts became a powerful blank canvas on which messages of protest or support were projected, particularly during the Vietnam war when the famous Make Love Not War T-shirt was used to protest conscription in the US. Ironic then, that a garment made popular by the army was now being used to promote peace. 

“The medium for the message”

New York Times

The 1980’s and the continued development of screen printing techniques saw the trend for bulk T-shirt printing continue. Custom printed T-shirts were becoming a popular way of displaying a passion for pop-culture or raising awareness for important causes whilst making a fashion statement. George Michael famously wore a ‘Choose Life’ T-shirt in the music video for Wham!’s ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, part of Katherine Hamnett’s range of T-shirts designed for protesting. This design was quickly replicated by companies specializing in wholesale T-shirt printing and sold as official merchandise for fans of Wham!. To this day the T-shirt continues to be sold and stands as one of the most replicated garments in the world. By the 1990’s the T-shirt was making waves in high fashion with Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel featuring a white T-shirt layered under the classic tweed jacket in his 1994 runway shows, a trend that then trickled down into high street fashion, notably in the iconic looks of Rachel and Monica in the hit sitcom Friends.

Where Are They Now?

 Custom T-shirt printing continues to be a huge trend, with events such as Stag and Hen parties, charity events and concerts all calling for a personalised T-shirt to commemorate the occasion. The world of corporate T-shirt printing also continues to expand as businesses choose to have custom uniforms made for staff, a smart move that allows for free advertising as staff travel to and from work.

In contrast to the cheaper, bulk, custom printed T-shirts, the ultra-rich who have no problem dropping the price of a large house on a T-shirt have a couple of unique options to choose from, such as the $400,000 dollar T-shirt featuring a total of 16 diamonds sewn into the fabric or the $240,000 solid gold T-shirt.

The humble T-shirt has come a long way since its days down the mines. The Global T-shirt printing business is valued at $3.64 Billion as of 2020 and is only expected to keep growing. So, whether a business is buying T-shirts in bulk for screen printing or a designer is creating a one-off, unique design, the simple T-shirt can do it all.

Get your message out into the world, with custom t-shirts. Whether you’d like to order a single custom t-shirt online, or you’re looking to request a quote to bulk order custom printed t-shirts, we’d love to help.