Why The T-Shirt?

April 16, 2014

When I began to build an idea around a social brand, I thought more about people than products.  Conversations need to spark.  Questions need to be asked. Connections need to crystalize. I quickly cemented this phrase in my mind: “Army of Support.”

With this army in mind, it was easy to think of the t-shirt.  It’s the ultimate icon of everyday American fashion.  In its simplest form - political, artistic, or humorous, -the T-shirt makes a statement about the wearer. As one of the most prolific forms of the graphic message,  the T-shirt comes to us from France.  During World War I, American soldiers discovered that French soldiers had lighter, more breathable underwear.  When US troops returned home from battle, they brought with them this new and improved t-shirt.

Military significance continued.  The US Navy made the white cotton tee its official undergarment in 1913.  The US Army followed in 1942.  As Tim Gunn points out in his Fashion Bible: “Americans fought in WWII, and they won it in t-shirts!”  The t-shirt became the emblem of manliness and victory. Returning soldiers kept wearing their standard issue tees in everyday life.  Non-soldiers soon followed.  A 1940s Sears catalog read: “ You needn’t be a soldier to have your own personal t-shirt.”  Our veterans gave the t-shirt its heroic identity.

After WWII, the t-shirt goes on to establish itself as a working class garment.  Those performing the manual labor that built the USA are often displayed in the grind of hard work in their functional white T-shirts.  Farmers, Steelworkers, Longshoresman. By the 1950s, the nation’s youth grabs on to the t-shirt to symbolize their allegiance with these workingmen and women.  Soldiers over “suits” was the message.  Giorgio Armani once noted that a sheath of white cotton cancels our distinction in class. “I love the t-shirt as an anti-status symbol, putting rich and poor on the same level. “

As a tool of democratization, the t-shirt became our national uniform.  And their symbolism as a uniform was crystal clear - dispelling any confusion of who is with an establishment versus who is a visitor. 

Why the t-shirt? An Army of Support needs a uniform. 

Thanks always!