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 afterward, a company named Tropix Togs got the exclusive rights to print Disney T-shirts. Tropix Togs was the first company to embellish t-shirts. By printing t-shirts with pop culture icons (such as Disney characters), they lead the way to customize 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 by 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 its emotional connection have made it a democratic garment that will forever be a part of worldwide culture.