History of The T-shirt

Have you ever wondered how the t-shirt came to be such an iconic staple in American fashion and culture? Are you curious to know how garment decorating, such as screen-printing, became a multi-billion dollar industry? It’s a rather short and simple story, but one that has lead to such massive change that it should be told and embraced more often than it currently is.

A few years ago, t-shirts were only worn as undershirts. To this day, many blue-collar and white-collar individuals still wear them solely for that purpose. The earliest t-shirts date back to sometime between the Spanish American War and the year 1913, when the U.S. Navy began issuing them as undershirts. After World War II, it became a common sighting to see war veterans wearing their trousers with a t-shirt as casual wear. By 1920, Merriam-Webster had welcomed the term “t-shirt” as an official word in the English dictionary. In 1950, the popularity of the t-shirt as a stand-alone outerwear garment started skyrocketing after the actor Marlon Brando wore one in a film entitled A Streetcar Named Desire.

By the time the 1950’s rolled around, a number of companies in Miami, Florida began experimenting with garment decoration. One method that would later turn into a multi-billion dollar industry was that of screen-printing. These companies in Miami started to screen-print t-shirts with various resort names and illustrated characters. One of the first companies to dabble in this field was known, at the time, as Tropix Togs, under the founder Sam Kantor. Tropix Togs held the original license for screen-printing Walt Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse and Davy Crockett. It wouldn’t be until 1960 that screen-printed t-shirts would be seen as an accepted means for self-expression, commercial advertisements, political views, and souvenir messages.

As of 1994, the U.S. Domestic Printing Industry was a significantly larger business than the automotive industry. Employing over 1 million people and grossing over $83+ billion in annual revenue stands to prove that t-shirts have become an iconic fashion statement in a world that is constantly seeking to express itself in new ways.

It’s amazing that a story as simple and short as this has cultivated such massive, drastic change.

Be sure to visit our Instagram to see how Real Thread’s clients are contributing to such an iconic movement in he world of fashion.


1/0 tonal light water based print on American Apparel TR401’s in Tri-Black for Seanwes.


5/0 discharge print on Next Level 6010’s in Vintage White for Chaotic Moon.

Article credit: http://www.realthread.com/blog/history-t-shirt

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