The History Of T-Shirts & Their Humble Origin (T-Shirt History Timeline)
There's absolutely no doubt that T-shirts have come a long way over the decades. They've been around since the 19th century, and have changed in a number of ways over the years.
It's one garment which has stood the test of time over the years, and have proved to be popular among everyone. The young, the old, male or female, everyone owns and wears T Shirts.
Table Of Contents
- The Origins Of The T Shirt
- T Shirts In The 1950s
- T Shirts In The 1960s
- T Shirts In The 1970s
- T Shirts In The 1980s
- T Shirts In The 1990s
- T Shirts In The 2000s
- T Shirts In The 2010s
- Popular T Shirt Styles In The 2020's
- T Shirt History Timeline
The Origins Of The T Shirt
T Shirts go all the way back to the 19th century, and were not used in the same ways as we use T Shirts now.
Originally, t-shirts were considered as undergarments and were primarily worn as a form of underwear by workers, sailors, and miners.
They were typically made of lightweight cotton fabric and had short sleeves and a crew neck.
In the early 20th century, the U.S. Navy adopted t-shirts as part of their uniform, and this exposure in the military helped popularize t-shirts among civilians.
However, it wasn't until the 1950s that t-shirts started to gain mainstream popularity.
This was largely due to cultural influences, such as movies and television shows, which featured actors wearing t-shirts.
Marlon Brando's iconic portrayal of Stanley Kowalski in the movie A Streetcar Named Desire and James Dean's rebellious image in Rebel Without a Cause contributed to t-shirts growing acceptance as a fashionable garment.
T Shirts In The 1950s
Way back in the 1950s t-shirts gained popularity as a casual garment. Various styles emerged that reflected the fashion trends and cultural influences of the time.
The plain white t shirt was an incredibly popular t-shirt back in the 50s, laying down the foundation of how we wear t-shirts now.
Plain White T-Shirts
The classic white t-shirt remained a staple in the 1950s. It was often worn as an undershirt, but it gradually transitioned into outerwear, especially among young people who embraced a more casual and rebellious style.
Other T Shirt styles made their debut too. These included things like graphic tees, henleys, Hawaiian shirts and college shirts, although all of these styles were popularised later on.
T Shirts In The 1960s
Back in the 1960s t-shirts continued to evolve and became an even more significant part of fashion and popular culture.
This is the decade which really saw t shirts take off in all wonderful ways and styles. Here's what t-shirts were popular in the 60s.
The tie-dye t-shirt became synonymous with the counterculture movement of the 1960s.
It was a symbol of rebellion, individuality, and the rejection of mainstream norms.
Tie-dye shirts were characterized by vibrant, psychedelic patterns created by folding, twisting, and dyeing the fabric.
As music became a driving force in youth culture, band t-shirts gained immense popularity.
Fans proudly wore shirts featuring their favourite bands and musicians.
Icons like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Dylan inspired iconic t-shirt designs.
Political and Protest T-Shirts
The 60's was a decade marked by significant social and political movements. T-shirts became a means of expressing political beliefs and protesting against issues like civil rights.
It can be said that the 1960s was the birthplace of slogan t-shirts, with plenty being created and worn.
Slogans and symbols related to peace, equality, and activism adorned many t-shirts during this time, and have stood the test of time being popular over 60 years later.
Peace Symbol T-Shirts:
The peace symbol, originally designed for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the UK, gained widespread popularity during the 1960s as a universal symbol of peace and anti-war sentiment.
Peace symbol t-shirts were worn as a statement against violence and war.
These t-shirt styles of the 1960s reflected the spirit of social change, individuality, and cultural movements that defined the era.
They helped transform the t-shirt from a basic undergarment to a powerful medium for self-expression and a reflection of one's identity and beliefs.
T Shirts In The 1970s
The 1970s was a decade known for its diverse and eclectic fashion trends.
T-shirts continued to be popular during this time, and several styles emerged that reflected the cultural influences of the era.
Here's what t-shirts were the most popular in the 1970s.
Brand and Logo T-Shirts
T-shirts with prominent logos and branding became more prevalent in the 1970s. The 70s can be considered the decade where we saw branding really take centre stage on t-shirts, with plenty of brands and companies embracing putting their logo on to t-shirts.
Brands like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Marlboro, as well as sports apparel brands like Adidas and Nike, began to feature their logos prominently on t-shirts.
Logo based t-shirt designs became a culture thing, showing your personal love for a company or brand.
Band t-shirts remained highly popular throughout the 1970s.
Rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and AC/DC dominated the music scene, and fans proudly wore t-shirts featuring their favourite bands logos and album artwork.
The 70s were characterized by a mix of nostalgia, cultural movements, and commercial branding, which influenced t-shirt styles.
T-shirts became a canvas for self-expression, showcasing musical tastes, personal affiliations, and cultural references.
T Shirts In The 1980s
In the 1980s, t-shirt styles continued to evolve, reflecting the fashion trends and cultural influences of the era.
It could be said that the 1980's was the most important year for t-shirts, especially when we're talking about graphics, prints and putting messages on to t-shirts.
Here's what T-shirts were the most popular in the 80s.
Statement and Slogan T-Shirts
The 1980s witnessed the rise of statement and slogan t-shirts, often featuring catchy phrases, political messages, or humorous remarks.
T-shirts with phrases like Frankie Say Relax and Choose Life created by Katherine Hamnett gained popularity, showcasing individual attitudes and beliefs.
As you can see from Jesmundo, slogan t-shirts are as popular as ever, and continue to be worn by many people today.
Neon and Bright Colours
The decade embraced bold and bright fashion, and t-shirts were no exception.
Neon colours, vibrant patterns, and bold graphics were commonly seen on t-shirts, reflecting the era's energetic and flashy aesthetic.
Whenever we see the neon aesthetic and trend, this harks back to the 80s, and often gets a revival for retro fashion and style.
Pop Culture References
The 80's was known for its vibrant pop culture, and t-shirts reflected this phenomenon. T-shirts featuring iconic movies like Star Wars, Back to the Future, and Ghostbusters, as well as characters like Mickey Mouse and superheroes, were highly sought after.
Today you can see find these t-shirts, often seen as retro or vintage, with many remakes created for the new generation.
Brand Logo T-Shirts
It was a decade for big branding, and putting that onto cotton was now ever more popular.
T-shirts featuring prominent brand logos continued to be popular and worn by everyone. Brands like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nike, Adidas, and Calvin Klein became synonymous with the era's fashion.
The continuation for branding and logo mania was ever increasing with no signs of slowing down.
Band t-shirts remained highly popular in the 80's and it could be said this was the most popular for band tees ever
The era witnessed the emergence of influential music genres like punk, new wave, and heavy metal, and how did fans show their allegiance? With t-shirts of course!
Fans proudly wore t-shirts featuring their favourite bands and musicians. Bands such as The Ramones, Guns N' Roses, Duran Duran, and Madonna inspired iconic t-shirt designs.
These same t-shirts are still worn today, and band merch has became a huge industry, with wearing a band t-shirt to a gig the cultural norm.
These t-shirt styles of the 1980s captured the spirit of the decade, which was characterized by an emphasis on pop culture, consumerism, and self-expression.
T-shirts became a medium for showcasing your interests, and it was possibly the most important decade as far as graphic t-shirts goes.
It was when a graphic tee for every possible occasion was created, giving you a wardrobe of different graphic shirts for every day of the week.
T Shirts In The 1990s
In the 1990s, t-shirt styles underwent a shift that reflected the cultural influences and fashion trends of the era.
Music, film and popular culture was still huge, and the emergence of cartoon and animation themed shirts became popular as a fond reminder of youth.
These are some t-shirt trends that were popular in the 90's.
In the UK, the popularity of football shirts really took centre stage. It wasn't just match going supporters who were wearing them, it was all fans of football, at all times.
From kids wearing them day to day to adults wearing them out and about, football shirts really started to take over in the UK when it come to fashion.
This was extremely popular in 1996, as Euro 96 came to England for a summer of football, with the excitement of this the whole country went football mad, as if it wasn't already.
The grunge movement, with bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden at its forefront, had a significant impact on fashion in the 1990s. This was mostly seen in American fashion, but it did make it's way to the UK and elsewhere too.
Grunge-inspired t-shirts featured a distressed and worn-out look, often with band logos, album covers, or bold graphic prints.
The 90s witnessed a surge in logo and brand-centric fashion. T-shirts featuring prominent logos of sports brands like Nike, Adidas, and Puma, as well as luxury brands like Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, were highly popular.
Logos were displayed prominently on t-shirts, often serving as a status symbol.
Hip Hop And Rock Band T-Shirts
Rock band t-shirts remained popular in the 1990s, reflecting the diverse music scene of the decade. Bands such as Metallica, Guns N' Roses, and Red Hot Chili Peppers had very popular t-shirts adopted by fans and music goers alike.
Hip-hop acts like Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. inspired iconic graphic t-shirt designs. Music festival t-shirts like those from Lollapalooza and Woodstock '94, also gained popularity during the 90s.
Cartoon and Animation T-Shirts
T-shirts featuring beloved cartoon characters and animations were a prominent trend in the 1990s.
Characters from shows like The Simpsons, Looney Tunes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Pokémon adorned many t-shirts, appealing to both children and nostalgic adults.
T Shirts in the 90's were brilliant, and really took graphics, slogans, fun and branding to a whole new level.
T Shirts In The 2000s
When we hit the new millennium hit we had a whole host of different styles of t-shirts that were popular. Y2k made sure the the era of printed tees was here to stay, these were the most popular styles we were rocking in the 00's.
Graphic T Shirts
Whatever graphic you wanted you could get it in the 2000's. Everything from bright bold patterns to monochrome black and white styles, it was present in the 2000s.
Music T Shirts
There was no slowing down of music t shirts when the 00's hit. Fashion and music are interlinked, and this continued in the decade, with music fans wearing t-shirts to their favourite artists concerts.
Buying a t-shirt at a gig or music event became the must have item to show that you've been to the show.
Y2K Fashion Brand Logo Tees
Showing off your logos and branding continued in the 00's with no signs of slowing down.
One of the most popular brands was French Connection, and their FCUK branded T Shirts caused controversy, even being banned in some workplaces.
Funny Slogan T Shirts
There's no doubt that in the 2000's we were rocking plenty of funny t shirts. They were everywhere, and consisted of a funny slogan, text or graphic on the shirt.
They became increasingly popular as the decade went on, allowing those who wore them to show off their personality, views and just that they were up for a good time.
Vintage Movie & Film Tees
We all loved watching old films from the past, and wearing t-shirts that sported their logos or graphics became a way of showing our love for the films.
Wearing tees that had logos from pop culture films and TV shows of the 70s and 80s were particularly popular, being worn by many.
The popularity of graphic and printed t-shirts grew throughout the y2k era and would continue into the next decade.
T Shirts In The 2010s
When we got into the 2010's T Shirts took on a whole new market. They were not only a great basic item to wear, but luxury fashion and high end clothing labels got in on the act too.
These were the most popular ways to wear t-shirts in the 2010s.
Luxury Fashion Label T Shirts
T-shirts are perhaps the most accessible outer clothing garment you can own, but the luxury fashion brands wanted in on the act too. In this decade we saw luxury brands such as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Vetements, Versace, Givenchy and so many more.
Streetwear T Shirts
Streetwear became huge in the 2010's, with both luxury brands as well as lifestyle brands too.
Skater brands such as Stussy were popular, and one brand that took the logo t-shirt game by storm was Supreme. Regularly selling out their box logo t-shirt, it became much sought after, with resellers making fortunes selling via online marketplaces.
Luxury fashion labels such as Balenciaga were expensive, but being adopted and worn by the mainstream who hopped on to the streetwear trend.
Sustainable and Eco-Friendly T-Shirts
With growing environmental awareness, sustainable and eco-friendly t-shirts gained popularity.
These shirts were made from organic cotton, recycled materials, or blended fabrics with a reduced environmental impact.
T-shirts with eco-friendly messaging or logos also helped promote sustainability.
Football Shirts Became Fashionable
The emergence of football shirts in the 90's was mostly reserved for football fans only. In the 2010's, that changed a lot, with the rising popularity of football shirts within mainstream fashion.
One shirt which had notorious popularity was the Nigeria home shirt for the 2018 World Cup. This was an instant hit, selling out the day it was launched and became one of the most coveted kits at that year's World Cup.
Minimalist and Logo T-Shirts
The rise of minimalism and clean aesthetics influenced t-shirt styles in the 2010s.
Simple and sleek t-shirts with subtle branding, small logos, or minimalistic designs became popular.
These shirts provided a more understated and versatile option for those seeking a modern and minimalist look.
While previous years was all about showing off your branding, the 2010's was about branding but done in a far more subtle way.
T-Shirts in the decade continued on the path of prints and graphics, with more muted varieties becoming more popular. It was about showing off those logos, but in a more toned down way.
Popular T Shirt Styles In The 2020's
T-Shirts that are popular in the 2020's so far have been varied. Building on the previous decades, there's been something for everyone in the recent times.
Here's what's been popular so far in the 2020's.
Minimalist Graphics And Slogans On Shirts
Continuing on from the previous decade, minimalism is incredibly popular. If you're going for an expensive brand, it's all about not showing it off.
Smaller prints are incredibly popular, getting across your message without shouting about it.
Streewear Is Still A Trend
There's still plenty of streetwear that is on trend, and it continues to thrive after the previous decade.
New brands are coming along all the time with their own take on what makes a t shirt cool. European fashion labels are becoming more and more popular, with plenty of takes on what makes a streetwear design the perfect tee.
Sustainability Is A Key Factor In T-Shirts
A lot of people are buying more eco-friendly products, and sustainability in fashion has became a major talking point.
While the 2000's and 2010's could be considered the height of fast fashion, there's been a real rise in what's being called slow fashion.
This is more sustainable pieces not only made from materials such as organic cotton, but by companies and brands with messaging that aligns with caring about the planet and paying their staff living wages.
Graphic T Shirts As Popular As Ever
There's no doubt that graphic t shirts are as popular as ever, with a huge range to choose from for everyone. No matter what you're into, there's now a graphic t-shirt for it.
As always the graphics follow popular culture, with designs being inspired from current events along with the music, films and tv of today.
Slogan T Shirts Are More Important Than Ever
There's a lot going on in the world, and people like to get their message across. One way has been slogan T Shirts, with text, quotes and messages being printed on shirts and being worn.
From political messages to quotes, satire and just about everything else, everybody can own a slogan tee that they can relate to.
And there you have it, the most popular t-shirts we're all currently wearing in the 2020's.
There's no doubt that over the past 70 years the humble t-shirt has gained popularity and is now a staple in everyone's wardrobe. It's more of a question of how many t-shirts you own, rather than do you own a t-shirt.
From the undershirt to the simple plain style, it's been elevated as one of the most important items of clothing you can wear, and you can really make a statement wearing.
T Shirt History Timeline
A T-Shirt history timeline, from 1950's to 2020's.