The T-shirt evolved from undergarments used in the 19th century, through cutting the one-piece "union suit" underwear into separate top and bottom garments, with the top long enough to tuck under the waistband of the bottoms. T-shirts, with and without buttons, were adopted by miners and stevedores during the late 1800s as a convenient covering for hot environments.T-shirts, as a slip on garment without buttons, originally became popular in the United States when they were issued by the U.S. Navy during or following the Spanish American War. These were a crew-necked, short-sleeved, white cotton undershirt to be worn under a uniform. It became common for sailors and Marines in work parties, the early submarines, and tropical climates to remove their uniform "jacket", wearing (and soiling) only the undershirt. It is possible that the Navy uniform boards first discovered the T-shirt by watching dock crews.
Named the T-shirt due to the shape of the garment's outline, they soon became popular as a bottom layer of clothing for workers in various industries, including agriculture. The T-shirt was easily fitted, easily cleaned, and inexpensive, and for this reason, it became the shirt of choice for young boys (perhaps more the choice of their mothers than of the boys themselves). Boys' shirts were made in various colors and patterns.
By the time of the Great Depression, the T-shirt was often the default garment to be worn when doing farm or ranch chores, as well as other times when modesty called for a torso covering but conditions called for lightweight fabrics.
Following World War II it became common to see veterans wearing their uniform trousers with their T-shirts as casual clothing, and they became even more popular after Marlon Brando wore one in A Streetcar Named Desire, finally achieving status as fashionable, stand-alone, outer-wear garments.
In today, many notable and memorable t-shirts produced in the 1970s have now become ensconced in pop culture.
Examples include the bright yellow happy face t shirts, the Rolling Stones tops with their tongues sticking out, and of course, the iconic "I ♥ N Y.”
Another popular shirt design among tourists is the funny phrase, “My parents went to ______ (name of place), and all I got was this lousy shirt!.”
They can also be used to carry commercial advertising, souvenir messages and protest art messages.
T-shirts were originally worn as undershirts. Now T-shirts are worn frequently as the only piece of clothing on the top half of the body, other than possibly a bra or an undershirt (vest). T-shirts have also become a medium for self-expression and advertising, with any imaginable combination of words, art and even photographs on display.
A T-shirt typically extends to the waist. Variants of the T-shirt, like the tank top, crew neck, A-shirt (with the nickname "wife beater"), muscle shirt, scoop neck, and the V-neck have been developed. Hip hop fashion calls for "tall-T" T-shirts which may extend down to the knees. A 1990s trend in women's clothing involved tight-fitting "cropped" T-shirts that are short enough to reveal the midriff. Another popular trend is wearing a "long-sleeved T-shirt", then putting a short-sleeved T-shirt of a different color over the long-sleeved shirt; this is known as "layering".
In the early 1950s several companies based in Miami, Florida, started to decorate T-shirts with different resort names and various characters. The first company was Tropix Togs, under founder Sam Kantor, in Miami. They were the original license for Walt Disney characters that included Mickey Mouse and Davy Crockett. Later other companies expanded into the T-shirt printing business that included Sherry Manufacturing Company also based in Miami. Sherry started in 1948 by its owner and founder Quinton Sandler as a screen print scarf business and evolved into one of the largest screen printed resort and licensed apparel companies in the United States.
In 1959, plastisol, a more durable and stretchable ink, was invented, allowing much more variety in T-shirt designs.
In the 1960s, the ringer T-shirt appeared and became a staple fashion for youth and rock-n-rollers. The decade also saw the emergence of tie-dyeing and screen-printing on the basic T-shirt. In the late 1960s Richard Ellman, Robert Tree, Bill Kelly, andStanley Mouse set up the Monster Company in Mill Valley, California, to produce fine art designs expressly for T-shirts. Monster T-shirts often feature emblems and motifs associated with the Grateful Dead and marijuana culture. Additionally, one of the most popular symbols to emerge out of the political turmoil of 1960s were T-shirts bearing the face of Marxistrevolutionary Che Guevara.
The most common form of commercial T-shirt decoration is screen-printing. In screen-printing, a design is separated into individual colors. Plastisol or water based inks are applied to the shirt through mesh screens which limits the areas where ink is deposited. In most commercial T-shirt printing, the specific colors in the design are used. To achieve a wider color spectrum with a limited number of colors, process printing (using only cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink) or simulated process (using only white, black, red, green, blue, and gold ink) is effective. Process printing is best suited for light colored shirts. Simulated process is best suited for dark colored shirts. Very few companies continue to use water-based inks on their shirts. The majority of other companies that create shirts prefer to use plastisol due to the ability to print on varying colors without the need for color adjustment at the art level.
Specialty inks trend in and out of fashion and include; shimmer, puff, discharge and chino based inks. A metallic foil can be heat pressed and stamped onto any plastisol ink. When combined with shimmer ink, metallics give a mirror like effect wherever the previously screened plastisol ink was applied. Specialty inks are more expensive to purchase as well as screen and tend to appear on garments in boutiques.
Other methods of decoration used on T-shirts include airbrush, applique, embroidery, impressing or embossing and the ironing on of either flock lettering, heat transfers, or dye-sublimation transfers. Laser printers are capable of printing on plain paper using a special toner containing sublimation dyes which can then be permanently heat-transferred to T-shirts.
In the 1980s, thermochromatic dyes were used to produce T-shirts that changed color when subjected to heat. The Global Hypercolour brand of these was a common sight on the streets of the UK for a few years, but has since mostly disappeared. These were also very popular in the United States among teenagers in the late 1980s. A downside of color-change garments is that the dyes can easily be damaged, especially by washing in warm water, or dye other clothes during washing.
At the turn of the century, designing custom T-shirts online became more popular. Popular websites began to use digital printing (such as Direct to Garment or DTG printing) to allow customers to design their own T-shirts online with no minimum orders. In the beginning, DTG could not print well on dark garments; however, with the help of some online T-Shirt retailers, printer manufacturers such as T-Jet have all but perfected the process, providing consumers with many more printing options