The History of the Graphic Tee

T-shirts that display graphics have continued to maintain their popularity for over half a century. The images or logos printed on them show support for organizations as well as making a fashion statement that helps to define who you are. Today’s graphic tee has a history that seen it go from an undergarment to a distinctive piece of outerwear.

Humble Origins

Today’s T-shirt started out as union suit underwear in the 1800s. This one-piece undergarment was converted into a top and a bottom. Dockworkers and miners wore them as they could be tucked into the waist and worn under suspenders. The US Navy began issuing a slip-on style in 1898 that developed into the white crew neck version that many are familiar with.

Adding Graphics

Early examples of graphics on the T-shirt can be found as early as the 1930s, with the word “Oz” referring to the movie The Wizard of Oz. Disney also used early designs that display their most popular character, Mickey Mouse. Designs have advanced in complexity since the 1960s, with today’s products displaying intricate logos and vibrant colors.

Going Inside Out

The next step in evolution took hold in the mid-1950s when actors James Dean and Marlon Brando wore T-shirts as outerwear. The trend had already begun to gain a foothold before this, but the movie Rebel Without A Cause cemented the T-shirts status as a form of rebellious attire. It wasn’t long before this clothing was used as a fashion statement. By the 1960s, silkscreen printing turned the graphic tee from something worn by artists and rebels into an acceptable mainstream clothing article.

Why Stop There?

Earlier design concepts that sported logos for political candidates, corporations, and popular products like Coca-Cola expanded during the 1970s. Fans began to purchase T-shirts with existing images of sports teams and rock groups. Iron on graphics gained in popularity and allowed a person to personalize their image even more.

Colors other than white also became standard at this time. Solid colors such as blue, green, red, and yellow were sold. By the late 1970s, black had become a popular color, especially when used for concert T-shirts. Tie-dye shirts also reached their peak popularity near this time and were often made at home with kits.

Eventually, corporate logos were introduced as employee apparel. In recent years, designer labels have also introduced their graphic tee designs that make use of their company logos.

No End In Site

Unlike most of the clothing from the past, the graphic tee shows no sign of losing popularity. They are lightweight and comfortable to wear. They also allow you to express yourself in countless ways.