The Origin of the T-Shirt

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The T-Shirt. Arguably the most popular outer garment in the world.

While going through The Orenda Tribe's T-shirt inventory the other day I paused and wondered "What is the origin of the T-shirt?" then I thought to myself that this is information that I should probably know especially when I am running my own T-shirt company.

So I did some research and following is the juice of what I found out.

Sometime in the 19th century, people who made undergarments began experimenting with fabrics that could stretch back into shape to make the product more comfortable. This resulted in the creation of buttonless undershirts made from wool and cotton that you could pull over your head without ruining the collar.

Despite the creation of this button-less comfortable product, it still looked like underwear for most people and wearing it in public was considered scandalous. There were even laws on the books as early as 1890 in places like Havana stating that it was illegal to wear these pullover tops exposed in public.

In 1904, the Cooper Underwear Company began marketing this button-less product to single men as "bachelor undershirts" with the tagline: "No safety pins — no buttons — no needle — no thread"

Very shortly after this advertisement ran (about a year), the US Navy took notice of the durability of this product as opposed to the buttoned shirt and officially incorporated the button-less white undershirt into its uniform.

Then the undershirt came to the attention of the US Army a few years later during WWI with the undershirts soon worn by tens of thousands of army soldiers, many of whom took the fashion home with them.

Shortly after WWI ended in 1920, the author F.Scott Fitzgerald became the first known person to use the word "t-shirt" in print when he included it in his novel, This Side of Paradise as one of the items the main character takes with him to university.

By the time WWII started, the "modern" t-shirt had become common in high schools and universities across the US, though it was still commonly worn by adults, at least, as an undershirt except among workers in hot conditions, such as farmers.

At the end of WWII soldiers returning home incorporated the t-shirt into their day to day fashion and this is when the t-shirt started to gain acceptance as an outer garment by the general public.

The popularity of a t-shirt as an outer garment further surged thanks to Marlon Brando and his role in A Street Car Named Desire which featured Brando wearing a tight fitting t-shirt.

Furthermore, in the late 1960's the T-shirt became a means of self expression as wearable art as well as to convey commercial advertising, souvenir messages, and protests.

In conclusion, if I have to summarize the reasons behind the birth of the t-shirt in 2 words I would say comfort and self-expression. Two main things that The Orenda Tribe strives for, through our premium organic cotton fabric, the children's art displayed on our t-shirts and our cause.

Click here to view 13 iconic moments in the history of the T-Shirt.

Inspire Hope,

Zaid Souqi

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