The T-shirt has always been a staple of the fashion industry, serving nearly every purpose from high fashion to utilitarian clothing. T-shirts are present in uniforms, in every country of the world, and even in the pages of magazines like Vogue.
The evolution of the classic T-shirt has been impressive, to say the least. From the first prototype of the union suits developed in the US in the late 1800’s, it has undergone several transformations to emerge as the one of the most versatile men’s garment of clothing. Its long tradition that began as a workwear staple to its current role as an ultimate style statement, it is a quintessential garment that has found a place in every man’s heart and wardrobe.
Even though it might seem like T-shirts have been around forever, they were actually invented in the 19th century as a direct result of increased global cotton production. The invention of mechanized cotton separation reduced the price of cotton exports around the world, so T-shirts became a cheap alternative to fancier undergarments. T-shirts were originally made by cutting the one-piece “union suit” undergarments into two pieces. They caught on mostly among industrial workers that spent all their time in the hot environments of boiler rooms and mines.
The popularity of the T-shirt took off in the late 1800s during the Spanish American war, when the United States issued white cotton T-shirts (almost identical to the white crew-necked shirts that are popular today) to sailors and stevedores that worked in the tropical heat of Central America. This allowed people to soil only their undershirts rather than their whole uniforms. T-shirts eventually became popular when returning soldiers introduced them to young boys and to workers in agriculture during the Great Depression, a cheap alternative to the fashionable clothing of the day.
T-shirts were originally just undergarments, but they rapidly evolved into statements of style with the addition of colors and graphics. Evidence of the first printed T-shirts is actually apparent in the old Wizard of Oz movies, and many people in the early 1900s wore T-shirts that were printed with the names of clothing stores or the names of various membership organizations.
The first T-shirt variant that became popular as a fashion design of its own was the “ringer” T-shirt,
a type of shirt that had differently colored fabric on the seams of the neck and arms.
Tie-dye T-shirts and screen-printed T-shirts also became popular in the 1960s,
and T-shirts became a uniquely Western way of expressing one’s own identity.
Since T-shirts have always been so cheap,
they have been associated with various “underground” movements, and with bands, protests, and youth organizations.
In Korea on the beach and in the pools, tees and baggy shorts are worn over long sleeve swim shirts and leggings. This makes great looking and comfy swimwear with good sun protection and style.