The humble t-shirt isn’t so humble after all, its rise to fame and importance may have been portrayed with such modesty but don’t be fooled…the T has the power.
The t-shirt’s status was first recognised in the US when the US Navy issued them to recruits to be worn under their uniform. In 1938 the first tees were sold to civilians as outerwear; they were marketed as ‘gob’ shirts.
Emerging from such strong, noble beginnings encouraged the feeling of strength, masculinity and a heroic notion, all still associated with the T.
Not content with its functional status the t-shirt decided to begin a long and distinguished journey as communicator to the masses, interpreter of dreams and emotions.
An ageless canvas….discovered by Warren Dayton, artist, illustrator and designer during the psychedlic era he started to use the t-shirt as a new medium to explore; our modest gob shirt never looked back.
In 1975 Vivienne Westwood famously reprinted an illustration by artist Jim French called ‘Longhorns’. Malcolm McLaren added some text and the ‘Cowboys’ t-shirt was born. It caused waves of controversy through mainstream culture and thrills of delight from trendsetters and creatives. Shop worker Alan Jones was arrested on the Kings Road for wearing one. It was deemed too provocative and he was fined. The design is still in print today.
So the word was out – the t-shirt was a powerful tool for freedom of expression, communication and advertising, a banner for bands to promote their music and fans to celebrate their songs.
The teenage agony aunt. When no one understands you the t shirt will shield you and speak for you. I remember with great fondness my Cure t-shirt, my comfort blanket as a shy fourteen year old. It was my armour, giving me a sense of security and belonging. My parents hated it…
In 1977 the graphic artist Milton Glaser single-handedly elevated the city of New York with one simple logo….I ❤️ NY is still symbolic today. A momentous moment within the realms of advertising but what about us, the ordinary person, the civilian on the street, what does the t-shirt mean to us?
I believe it’s an opportunity for us to express our creativity; we’re all born creative but alas some of us grow up too fast. For some, choosing and wearing a t-shirt in the morning could be the most creative thing we get to do all day. It could be something that triggers a memory or emotion close to your heart that keeps you smiling inside through the day.
Let’s not forget those dark days we sometimes encounter; there are plenty of tees to suit every mood. The company T-shirt Hell celebrates those controversial designs, priding themselves on being politically incorrect, allowing the wearer to laugh in the face of doom and gloom.
By moving your existing emotion into another domain or dimension, can your t-shirt affect the rules of attraction? Of course, that logo or band could make or break that first date… it’s symbolic, a visual communication of who you are and your perspective on the world. This power can sometimes be cultivated, so that instead of offering clues to our identity it could be an opportunity to disguise, hide and even surprise.
Once the ‘deal is sealed’ there’s that post coital t shirt…cute, coy and full of promises of future adventures.
One thing’s for certain – a t-shirt is infectious, to be revered. We covet the rare and the limited editions just like a piece of art. The Victoria and Albert Museum now features a permanent collection of tees through the ages in their fashion gallery.
Those that choose to live first and later philosophise are the perfect ambassadors, so put on your t-shirt – let’s dance.