How T-Shirts Became a Staple of Global Fashion

You can look through our inventory of men’s and women’s tops and find a generous selection of great t-shirts. Our clothing store in Salt Lake City represents but a drop in the global ocean of retailers that sell t-shirts. Everyone sells them because they have universal appeal.

T-shirts are more than just clothing. They are cultural icons in many places. Take London, for example. London’s Fashion and Textile Museum opened a show devoted exclusively to the history of t-shirts back in 2018. Imagine that. An entire exhibit devoted to an article of clothing that most of us take for granted.

A Fairly New Item

Tees are everywhere these days. But did you know that the t-shirt is a fairly new item by comparison? They weren’t even made until the late 19th century. T-shirts didn’t become fashionable as outerwear until the 1950s.

OBEY Sadistic Florist $23.80

The t-shirt’s history dates back to the Mexican-American war in the late 1800s when the shirts were issued to soldiers as undergarments. In 1913, the U.S. Navy began issuing t-shirts as standard undergarments to all sailors. Back then, the shirts were known as undershirts.

It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who allegedly coined the term ‘t-shirt’ in his novel This Side of Paradise. Yet it was Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire that turned the world on to the t-shirt as outerwear. His portrayal of the t-shirt wearing Stanley Kowalski was taken to the next level by James Dean in Rebel without a Cause.

These two films are credited with propelling the tee into modern culture as a garment that could be worn with nothing else over the top of it. From the 1950s through much of the 60s, plain white t-shirts were a status symbol among self-proclaimed rebels refusing to conform to the fashion standards of the day.

The Birth of Graphic T-Shirts

A few outliers tried printing graphics on t-shirts in the 1950s and early 60s, yet their success was fleeting. It wasn’t until Walt Disney licensed its characters that t-shirt makers began realizing the potential of graphic tees.

Roark Java Fever $35.00

Silk-screening and screen printing would change everything in the 1960s. By the late 60s and early 70s, t-shirts became message boards for every social cause under the sun. People were wearing t-shirts to promote flower power and protest the Vietnam War. Then the music scene got on board.

Rock bands began printing graphic tees and selling them at concerts. As the 70s rolled into the 80s, t-shirt messages began turning more positive and sarcastic. T-shirts became canvasses for spreading jokes and amplifying cultural trends.

T-Shirts in the 21st Century

If it seems as though things have come full circle with t-shirts, they have. The early days of tees were dominated by plain white garments that only became a fashion statement when two actors wore them in films. Multicolored shirts, silkscreen printing, and tie-dye trends transformed t-shirts into a way to spread a message.

Today, every kind of t-shirt imaginable is out there. You can buy solid t-shirts in plain white or any other color. You can find t-shirts with political messages and sarcastic jokes. Sports teams continue printing graphic t-shirts for their loyal fan bases.

T-shirts can even be considered formal enough to wear with expensive sport coats and business skirts. In essence, the tee shirt has become an all-purpose piece of clothing that says as much about the culture as it does about the person wearing it.

Here at The Stockist we sell a fine selection of t-shirts alongside our jeans, boots, tops, and bottoms. We invite you to take a look for yourself.

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