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The Evolution Of The T-shirt: From Undergarment To Making A Statement

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By Author: Jacob Lips
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T-shirts are the most commonly worn garment in the world. It is simple and comfortable, which most people really like. It is the most no-fuss clothing item that you can wear. When you want to just stay at home, a T-shirt is the most comfortable clothing. When you want to get out of the house, a nice clean shirt will do the trick. When you want to honor someone, a T-shirt is a good way to do it. The T-shirt has come a long way from being just a simple undergarment.


With the importance of a T-shirt in today’s world, it is easy to imagine that people have been wearing T-shirts since time immemorial.
In reality, T-shirts are not even 200 hundred years old. The first T-shirt—of sorts—dates back to the late 19th century. Apparently, some laborers would cut their uniform jumpsuits when the weather is hot. The standard uniform for laborers, especially miners and dockworkers, was a jumpsuit. But it became too hot so they would cut it into two pieces: a top and a pair of bottoms. The long-sleeved top would also be cut into short sleeves during summer.

The first T-shirts manufactured were during the Spanish-American War in 1898, when soldiers used them as an undershirt. But it wasn’t until 1913 that the white crewneck T-shirt was issued as an official undergarment of the U.S. Navy. But when the servicemen are not on official duty, they are often seen in just their T-shirt and issued pants. Eventually, the entire population caught on with the simplicity and comfort brought on by T-shirts. Not only that, T-shirts are easy to clean and usually inexpensive.

More than just an undergarment

Over the years, the T-shirt has become standalone clothing. In fact, sometimes, a simple white T-shirt is enough. Case in point: James Dean. The late actor definitely elevated the T-shirt from a simple undergarment to a classic look. Now, the T-shirt comes in every color possible aside from the plain white tee that Dean favored.

Aside from colors, the T-shirts have also evolved in style. The original shirt had a crewneck. Now, there are V-neck tees, scoop-neck shirts, wide-neck, and collared T-shirts. There is also the turtleneck for the cold weather. There are also those that come with buttons known as the Henley, a popular type of shirt for men. The sleeves of the T-shirt have also expanded from the basic half sleeves to short sleeves, long sleeves and even three-fourths. Women T-shirts include the baby tee, cropped tee, off-shoulder T-shirt, and boyfriend shirt. Other types of T-shirts that men usually favor are pocket shirts and baseball T-shirts.

Many T-shirts have prints that range from formal to comical. There are those with prints of cartoon characters, superheroes, and abstract designs. The designs that can be placed on a shirt are limitless.

Statement T-shirts

In the last decade, the T-shirt has also been used to make a statement. When Brad Pitt’s marriage to Jennifer Aniston crumbled in 2005, some people started wearing T-shirts emblazoned with either Team Jen or Team Angelina. Political campaigns regularly use T-shirts in their campaign so they can be easily identified.

Other T-shirts are making statements about the environment in a bid for people to care about the climate change crisis among other environmental issues. Animals saying “Give me some room to breathe” is just one of the famous designs that come from the Manakin Dance line of T-shirts. The goal is to make the public become more aware of the wildlife habitat destruction, which has become rampant worldwide.

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