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T-Shirt History: Part 2 – The T-Shirt Goes to War

So far our t-shirt history series has shown how fading Victorian attitudes coupled with the rise of specialized garments for sports, along with the industrialization of cotton knitting production around the same time, were the catalyst for the genesis of the t-shirt. By the 1920s the world was beginning to feel the benefit of the incredible revolution in textile production. Cotton was rapidly replacing other, formerly staple textiles like wool and linen, as the go-to fabric of the time. Cotton dried faster, chaffed less and lent itself favorably to the industrial production processes being developed and refined at the time. As far as t-shirt history goes, the most significant development for this humble undergarment came in 1913 when it was adopted as a standard issue item of underwear by the U.S. Navy. The Royal Navy soon followed suit and, by the 1930s the T-shirt, and the Tank-top were making inroads in the military and working men’s wardrobes just about everywhere.

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Exhibition: T-shirt History

More than 100 years after its emergence as a humble item of underclothing, the t-shirt is getting its own fashion retrospective at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, England. Tshirt history it seems, is rich, layered and very much alive after a century of evolution and concomitant refinement of the world’s favorite garment. Not only is the t-shirt the world’s favorite garment, but t-shirt history also teaches that it is the world’s most democratic item of clothing in that, it can and is, worn by almost everyone, from every sector of society. Democratic t-shirts may be, but they have also attracted the interest and efforts of the icons of fashion design, as well as powerful social voices alike. From legendary British designers Vivian Westwood through Katharine Hamnett’s powerful protest tees of the 1980s, the t-shirt has done its duty as billboard, advertising platform, and fashion statement and the T-shirt: Cult- Culture-Subversion exhibition aims to pay tribute to this incredible printed, patterned and textured tshirt history.

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