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The Subversive Origins of the Humble T Shirt

The Subversive Origins of the Humble T Shirt

In Westeros, Winter is Coming but in the UK, Spring is in the air. The woollies are tentatively being packed away because it’s T shirt weather but did you know the T shirt has a very chequered past?  

The T shirt started life in the 1890s as a 'lightweight, short-sleeve, white cotton undervest' evolving from the 'union suit' - a long underwear onesie popular in the USA. Due to these origins, the first T shirts would have looked like an undergarment to most respectable people and wearing it in public was considered quite scandalous. In Havana, specific legislation was passed to ban the public display of any underwear-like top, so labourers working in the hot sun still had to wear long-sleeve shirts with buttons.

4 Men in long johns Posing

In 1904 the Cooper Underwear Company advertised a crew cut, buttonless, cotton shirt, stretchy enough to be pulled on over the head. Marketed as a “bachelor undershirt”, this T shirt prototype was meant to appeal to virile, young, single men, unhampered by a wife or the basic needlework skills needed to replace a lost button. Such a revolutionary garment may have posed a threat to the very institution of marriage but luckily there were still plenty of other little jobs such as cooking, cleaning, washing and raising children, requiring a woman’s touch.

It wasn’t until 1920 that the word “T Shirt” debuted in F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, This Side of Paradise. 'T shirt' also appeared in the Oxford English dictionary and found a growing fanbase in English and American high schools. However, it really entered the public consciousness when 1950s silver screen rebels James Dean and Marlon Brando smoldered in tight, plain T shirts, making the garment a symbol of youthful rebellion.

Marlon Brando with Vivienne Leigh and James Dean

This rebellious spirit was harnessed by the likes of Vivienne Westwood and her then-partner in crime Malcolm McLaren, whose T shirt designs reflected the anarchy of the 70s punk movement.

Sex Pistols God save the Queen T-Shirt

So, let’s give the T shirt the respect it deserves. Treat yourself and have a look at vectorbomb’s huge range of T shirts for sporty, haughty and naughty people. 

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