It has been love at first sight since the first t-shirts were handed out to sailors during the Spanish-American War, it has been a serious case of love at first sight. Lightweight, cool, comfortable, and cheap to produce: t-shirts have been part of American fashion almost as long as America has been, well…America.
The modern t-shirt as we know it didn’t start out looking like it does today. The grandfather of the t-shirt was something called a “union suit You may have heard of it as “long johnsor just “long drawers These undergarments where used primarily as a thermal layer under the clothing to keep the air next to the skin warm with insulation. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that people began separating the union suit into two pieces and wearing them as two different articles of clothes. This improvised undershirt became the father, or the precursor, to the modern t-shirt.
The t-shirt was originally meant to be used as a type of underwear since it’s earliest inception. Always very popular with the working class, it was used primarily with men in very labor-intensive jobs. Farmers, miners, dock workers, and sailors all made use of the earliest examples of the t-shirt. It became more and more common for people to strip off the outer layers of clothing during the warmer months and to just wear the t-shirt undergarment. This proved to be much more comfortable than wearing several layers of clothing, as was the custom of the time.
It was probably these very same working class people that Naval Officials saw working at the docks when they decided to include t-shirts as part of the required uniform of U.S. Navy personnel during the Spanish-American War. Just like the working-class laborers before them, the U.S. Navy seamen found that working in just their t-shirts was far more comfortable than full dress uniform or even shirtless. The t-shirts added all of the cooling comfort of less clothing, but still afforded a sense of modesty and protection from the sun’s rays.
It was only a matter of time before the t-shirt infiltrated American fashion after it gained a foothold amongst the Naval servicemen and the common working class. It was hard to resist wearing a garment that provided such comfort when the clothing options of the time were so heavy and sweltering. It was seen as a form of rebellion all the way up to when Marlon Brando made it popular with the film “A Streetcar Named Desire Every Hollywood rebel stereotype seemed to prefer a solid white t-shirt from that moment forward, from James Dean to “The Lost Boys./p>
America loves t-shirts because America loves freedom. T-shirts are a subtle embodiment of that American tradition. They offer comfort and a sense of casual flair that was missing from American fashion before the t-shirt burst onto the scene in the 1950’s. Even that sense of rebellion is preserved now that printed t-shirts are now extremely popular. Funny and offensive t-shirts are the new rebellion amongst today’s youth. Yes, I believe it is safe to say that America does indeed love the t-shirt.
Funny T-shirts, Novelty T-shirts
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