The T-Shirt: An American Icon

The T-Shirt: An American Icon

The T-Shirt. That ubiquitous item that fills our drawers. It is everything from a freebie shot out of a canon, a worn-in vintage score, the range of grey heather T’s we can't live without and of course, that coveted perfect white tee. We all know and love our comfy T-Shirt as the foundation of modern fashion today. But have you ever wondered about its humble journey? Rising from undergarment to an American icon in fashion culture, the T-Shirt is living the dream. What better time than Summer to focus on this wardrobe heroine.

For a much storied item, it is young, only dating back to the 19th century when men wore something called a union suit (more like an adult onesie)  in a white color with buttons in front as an undergarment. Once the union suit became mainstay, textile company P.H. Hanes Knitting released a new and modern version two piece version in 1902. It looked much like a union suit, but was shorter in length. making it cooler and more comfortable. 

Using new knitting technology The P.H. Hanes Knitting Company began producing men’s underwear in 1901. The T-shirt business boomed in the early decades of the 20th century. Along side the The P.H. Hanes Knitting Company came a company called Fruit of the Loom who marketed T-shirts on a large scale in the 1910s. By the 1930s, T-shirts were standard issue for college sportsmen who previously wore wool jumpers as uniforms. A cotton tee was a welcome comfort. I bet! I can not image the pain of working out in a wool garment. 

In 1938, the American retailer Sears, Roebuck and Company launched the white cotton “gob” shirts for sale.  Gob being the slang word for sailor.

Let's back up a min on the gob. In the late 19th century, sailors wore a white flannel T-shirt under their wool uniforms. It was allowed by the Navy that sailors could wear these flannel undershirts when working on deck. Wearing T-shirts as outerwear was quickly adopted by working-class men while lounging on the weekend. As Hanes and Fruit of the Loom were booming, the US Army and Navy started issuing white, short-sleeved, cotton T-shirts as well. The cotton dried faster than the flannel and was more comfortable. Thus the tee is associated with the gobs who started it all while swabbing the deck. 

Wartime and post-war imagery of T-shirt-clad soldiers at war helped popularise the association between the T-shirt and heroic masculinity. A popular ad states, "It’s an undershirt, it’s an outershirt”  - “wear it as an outershirt for sports and for lounging, or as an undershirt — it’s practical, correct, either way." By the 20th century the style was adopted in classic American cinema and leading men. Who could forget Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire and James Dean’s heart breaking smolder in his white t-shirt and denim, in Rebel without a Cause. These guys basically cemented T-shirt’s fashion fate. Off. The. Charts. It was an eyebrow raising move at that time because before that the T-shirt was still only considered underwear out of the home. Wearing as a main outer piece the T-Shirt became automatically correlated with a political statement of rebellion.  

In the 1960s, printing and tie-dying emerged soon after plastisol was invented. It was during this decade that wearing different bright colors and projecting your beliefs via t-shirt was a means of self-expression. Screen printing was a new innovation helping the T-shirt become a blank canvas for people to convey powerful messages through graphics and slogans. Self expression and inherent sex appeal brought the tee to women everywhere and then the T-Shirt became truly unisex. In 1977, Jacqueline Bisset scandalized movie goers in a wet, see-through T-shirt in The Deep

The 1980s brought the rise of customized t-shirts. New methods were invented to keep up with demand making tee printing easier, faster and more accessible. Now the mall rats have a place to hang! 

Companies, politicians and musicians discovered t-shirts can be a powerful tool for sales and messaging. Think "Frankie Says," Tees, happy face smile and The Rolling Stone’s logo. 

Anyone from any background or socio-economic standing can wear a tee. The T-shirt is the great leveler and at the same time can also be a mark of luxury and consumption. The classic garment has been reimagined by many designers from Dior to YSL to Chanel and Calvin Klein. Alexander Wang made the black tee shirt his uniform and Ralph Lauren is always in a tee, jeans and blazer.

The t-shirt has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a utilitarian garment. Today the T-Shirt is synonymous with the rebellious spirit by providing a platform for messaging especially to challenge the status quo during the 60s and 70s.

A T-shirt is a staple in every American wardrobe, and we cannot imagine it otherwise. Wardrobe essentials include the perfect tee as a must have, any probably more than just one! Yet, while speaking with and listening to curvy women wearing plus size clothing, we heard finding the perfect plus size T-Shirt was a challenge for curvier body types and shape. The Coolest Tee would become our first design. Our high-quality tee was crafted based on direct insight from women desiring their own iconic T-Shirt in plus size bringing our beautiful design to the modern blank canvas.

A T-shirt in its purest form has become the most democratic wardrobe piece and an item for self-expression. A must have for any plus size capsule wardrobe if you're looking to add new pieces. The great thing about a t-shirt is that it can go with so many other items of clothing, blazer, cardigan, jeans, leggings and more its one of the great many talents of the great white tee. They are also great pieces for layering. Whether v-neck, button-front, or crew neck the t-shirt is not just a basic, but an essential.  

The classic white T-Shirt remains a key element of the quintessential casual-cool uniform of the American dream. To us at See ROSE Go the T-shirt represents a sense of blank canvas, creativity, freedom and rebellion. Great for casual outfits and for personal styling. What do you want your T-shirt to say about you?

Meet the Coolest T-Shirt

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