10 Fun Facts – TShirts & Culture
Prior to the t-shirts rise in pop culture, t-shirts were underpinnings — meant to be worn beneath proper clothes. Throughout Victorian times a “t-shirt” was a tunic and in the early 1900s a ‘lightweight short-sleeve white cotton undervest’ for the US Navy. In the 1950s, many cultural factors influenced the t-shirt’s rise in popularity — making it an article of clothing in its own right. Movie stars such as Marlon Brando, John Wayne, and James Dean popularized t-shirts through popular cinema. These actors made the t-shirt something of style and spirit — not an unassuming piece of underwear.
By the time these t-shirts hit the big screen, graphic t-shirts were already in the cultural zeitgeist. In 1939, t-shirts with “Oz” printed on them appeared in The Wizard of Oz. However the credit for the most aged t-shirt slogan print was the “Dew it with Dewey” presidential campaign by candidate Thomas E. Dewey. Shortly afterwards, a company named Tropix Togs got the exclusive rights to print Disney T-shirts. Tropix Togs were the first company to embellish t-shirts. By printing t-shirts with pop culture icons (such as Disney characters) they lead the way to customizing t-shirts. With the opening of Disneyland in the mid-50s, the immense profitability of graphic tees was clear.
In 1959, the invention of the plastisol made a variety of t-shirt designs possible. Due to its durability and flexibility compared to other ink, it was an improvement for printing technology. The proliferation of the silkscreen method that was popularized b y Andy Warhol entrenched the graphic t-shirt in the fashion world AND in culture as a whole.
Off of this cultural phenomenon, everyone dipped their toes in the custom screen printed t-shirt. Rock and Roll bands in the 1960s were a huge factor in the popularization of t-shirts. In the 1970s, the wrinkle-free t-shirt was born. During this time, the graphic T-shirt was a form of expression that, in 1973, The New York Times dubbed it ‘the medium for the message’.
Now, in 2020, 2 billion t-shirts are sold worldwide every year. Currently, China and India are the two largest producers of cotton in the world — nearly 60 million sales per year. With several decades under our belt, t-shirt manufacturing has become more unique. A variety of materials are used to make t-shirts: leather, gold, even human hair.
The world’s costliest t-shirt is marked at nearly $400,000, embellished with 16 diamonds.
The t-shirt’s wearability and sense of casualness, combined with it’s emotional connection has made it a democratic garment that will forever be a part of worldwide culture.