T-shirt: The long story behind the unisex clothing

It has just celebrated it’s 100 years of existence but even till today, the T-shirt is the most popular clothing in the world. With its informal and unisex calling, it is a clothing which though is simple has always been strongly revolutionized throughout the history of fashion.
Beloved or hated, the T-shirt is a clothing without a collar and buttons, short sleeved or long sleeved, which women and men can wear indiscriminately and is designed in an infinite variety of models, more or less expensive, often becoming a medium of sharing messages, ideas and values.

But what is its history?

The T-shirt in ancient times

To go back to the origins of the T-shirt, you have to go far back in time. Some sources tell us that the first T-shirts were even worn by the Etruscan civilization and that it is possible to find similar clothing with sleeves of different length, even in the Renaissance period. Other sources instead date back the birth of the T-shirt at the end of the 19th century, when it was created to be used as underwear or workwear for men. This was the first time a version very similar to the contemporary model was worn, characterized by the typical stripes

The Second World War

But the year that will remain forever in the history of T-shirts will be 1940 when during World War II, the U. S. Armed Forces adopted the crew-neck T-shirt as part of the uniform for their men. Exactly since then, the use of T-shirt has spread widely throughout Europe and in 1942, the magazine “Life” selected an American soldier wearing it as the cover image.

Life Magazine – 1942

The Fifties and the cinema

The Fifties was an era of great popularity for T-shirts, which began to be worn also as clothing garment outside the use of underwear or workwear.
Their intensive popularity in Italy and throughout the rest of the world was determined by American fashion that spread through the cinema, thanks to icons such as Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire or James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.


James Dean and Marlon Brando wearing t-shirts

The T-shirts, strictly white, became a must for the fashion of the era, a comfortable and versatile clothing, perfect to wear over a pair of jeans. And the credit was thanks to this two sex symbol.
And if between the fifties and sixties white T-shirts were worn more than anything else entirely, at the end of the seventies the fashion of wearing colorful T-shirts began to emerge, for example, they started using them as uniforms of football teams or in American football.

From the Eighties to the present day

It was in the eighties that the T-shirt established itself as a creative clothing and communicative medium through ornamental drawings and writing. Wearing a T-shirt meant wanting to convey one’s own thought, a precise message, the one conveyed by the T-shirt itself.

Many companies also began to spread their advertising, political and geographical messages through T-shirts. Just think, for example, of T-shirts with the names of cities on them produced by the various Hard Rock Cafe in the world, sold as souvenirs.

Nike, which was initially called Blue Ribbon Sport, was the first company to experience the high marketing power of a T-shirt, they started producing it in large quantities exclusively with its own logo.
An excellent intuition that was imitated by many other American giants such as Play Boy, Coca Cola, Walt Disney and many others.

Today printed T-shirts are used daily, very common among young people and adults, worn both in summer and winter and is produced in many different models both in shape and color. There is no doubt that it is the most popular clothing product in the world.

The origin of the name T-shirt, as we know it nowadays

There are many theories about its name. There are those who attribute the name T-shirt to the shape of the T-shirt, precisely in the form of a “T”, while others attribute it to the fact that it was used in the training sessions of American soldiers during the World War and therefore the word was derived from “Training shirt”. Another theory argues instead that the name was derived from “Tee”, which means “amputated” referring to the fact that sleeves are cut, unlike a shirt.