With spring only weeks away, it’s time to start ditching the winter woollies and hunting for suitable replacements. As wardrobe essentials go, T-shirts are high on the desirables list so with this in mind, let´s see how the history of the T-shirt presented us with the famous five options we know and love on the high street today. The T-shirt has earned its place in military wear, Hollywood and even on the catwalks of Paris fashion houses. But what is so iconic and universally attractive about the t-shirt? Quite simply, the T-shirt is a key element and a simple piece. It is both classic and plain which means it is very hard to date, even in fashion terms.
The t-shirt feels like a relatively modern concept, but it actually dates back to 1913 when it was originally issued to the US Navy as an under garment with a simple and functional design for everyday use. The namesake of the T-shirt refers to the form of the item when it is laid flat. From then, the beloved ´T´ was introduced into the mainstream vocabulary and the rest is history.
The T-shirt carried on through history as a standard issue garment up until the mid-1940s when soldiers returning from war were noticed to be wearing T-shirts (in a variety of colours) with uniform trousers when they were off duty. Because it was comfortable and light, the T-shirt was a good substitute to the restricting and uncomfortable materials army uniforms were traditionally fashioned from. The style and popularity of the T-shirt was soon recognised and implemented by ordinary workers who were employed in hot conditions and this was re-translated into students and children who wore this ´urban uniform´ for pleasure and leisure.
By the 1950s, Hollywood had lifted the T-shirt to icon status. Screen icons such as Marlon Brando and James Dean encapsulated the ultra-cool, Hollywood superstar look that ´every girl wanted to date and every guy wanted to be.´ Shortly after this, the 70´s shook up and re-interpreted the t-shirt with logos from bands such as The Rolling Stones and Nirvana, kick-starting the concept of the band as brand.
The t-shirt has come a long way since its humble origins as military underwear. Several years ago, Hermes made a collection featuring their own crocodile skin version for a whopping $92K and from this many couture houses have continued to update the classic camiseta with embellishments and prints from celebrity artists.
The Plain White T-Shirt
The plain white T-shirt is the still the original and best. No other item comes close to its classic timelessness or simplicity. From its roots as a military issue under garment to becoming the on-duty and off-duty uniform of Hollywood icons, the plain white t-shirt is the still reigning king of t-shirts. The versatility of it means that you can wear it with a suit, with jeans or gym kit for more style and less fuss.
The Striped T-Shirt
In design terms, this T-shirt is just as current now as it was then. The Breton Tee was originally issued to the French Navy as a practical and congenial uniform for sailors in the mid-1800s. The striking geometric design was made up of 21 stripes (which was meant to signify each of Napoleon’s Victories) was originally used as a visual aid to rescue sailors who had fallen overboard.
In the early 19th century, one Coco Chanel used this reference to design a nautically inspired line for a more commercial following. In the 1950´s this was reinterpreted by the Beatnik´s for its simple and remaining style. Fast forward to present day and Jean Paul Gaultier still features this design as part of his key – iconic range with reference to the maritime history and timeless elegance of France.
The Graphic Print T-Shirt
Since the 1950s and the birth of screen printing, the design of the graphic t-shirt has been used to promote brands and businesses to say something about yourself (or your identity). The graphic T-shirt really became big business in the 1980´s with bands like Nirvana and brands like Stussy who were starting out taking the opportunity to display their names in an attempt to get noticed.
Several decades ago, there was an almost political hype encompassing these T-shirts which were mainly used within music, surf and skate companies. Following on from this, a political awakening in the youth subcultures gave them a platform show their thoughts, which is still equally relevant right up to this day.
The Sleeveless T-Shirt
The official outfit of the fitness fanatic, this body showing T-shirt has its origins in the 1950´s when going to the gym was a popular activity and wearing this T-shirt was almost compulsory. It allowed men (and some women) to keep cool while showing off their toned physique also. Also a perennial favourite of the holiday maker, the sleeveless T-shirt is a great option for Mediterranean climates and street style statements. You can wear it alone or in layers for a multitude of style options.
The Raglan T-Shirt
The Raglan T-Shirt has always been a strong trend in the USA and on baseball pitches but its namesake is where its real history lies. One Lord Raglan who sustained an arm injury during the Battle of Waterloo had a piece of outerwear protection with an extendable shoulder detail made, for easier dressing. Then throughout time and trends, this ´key’ detail was integrated into the ´Raglan T-shirt´ to create a contrasting and pleasing detail which is still very much sought after today.