Have you ever wondered how this garment with simple and modest origins became so iconic? The men's t-shirt, as we know it, is today an integral part of clothing but, until the early 1950s, it was considered solely as an undergarment to be worn exclusively under shirts. It is a garment so deeply rooted in Western culture that we would never expect it to have such a recent origin.
We assume that defining his birth date with precision is not easy; some prototypes that come closest to the t-shirts are already found in the 18th and 19th centuries, worn by sailors of the British Royal Navy.
The patent of a product instead that literally becomes today's men's t-shirt, was filed in 1904 by the Cooper Underwear Company which, on the basis of a suit / tights, developed the model by separating the part of the bust from that of the legs, removing the buttons and thus inventing the Bachelor tank top, an underwear in cotton jersey intended mainly for bachelors.
Thanks to its innovative practicality and ease of washing, but above all to the rather affordable price range, it is soon associated with the working class which, disinterested in aesthetics, prefers it above all for its practicality.
It will be necessary to wait until 1920 instead, for the actual term "t-shirt" to be introduced into the dictionary, thanks to Francis Scott Fitzgerald, who first published this definition in his novel "This Side of Paradise" to describe to the reader immediately , the image of that T-shaped shirt that was spreading more and more.
During World War II, however, the American army began to use the men’s t-shirt as an integral part of the uniform and, as it happens for all the fashions deriving from the States, Even the shirt spread like wildfire in armies all over Europe.
On the other hand, once the War is over, the US soldiers return triumphantly to their homeland, bringing with them an atmosphere of lightheartedness that will also affect everyday customs, which will gradually abandon the rigidity of formality, moving towards a more casual approach and here it is that, the men's t-shirts become part of the common male wardrobe with a certain charm, thanks to the image of handsome and virile fighters.
However, it was necessary to wait until the 1950s for the real turning point of this item of men's wardrobe. You know Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire”, or James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause”, right? Here, this is precisely the moment when those sex symbols wear a t-shirt for the first time on the big screen, consecrating it as an everyday item of clothing, and no longer just as a piece of underwear.
Perfectly embodying the rebellious spirit of their characters, with their white round neck t-shirts the two actors enchanted everyone. Today, to recreate this type of look, the choice is more than wide! There is no brand that does not include in its collections at least one piece of it such as the Brunello Cucinelli t-shirts which, combined with a pair of high-waisted jeans and a leather jacket, will make you an authentic movie star!
The 1960s, on the other hand, a decade of political struggles par excellence, saw the men's t-shirt transform into a real manifesto, thus becoming a showcase of slogans loaded with revolutionary ideas and eager for change. The rebellious and nonconformist soul of that decade can be recalled today with a very simple outfit: a pair of flared jeans and an eskimo-style jacket with printed t-shirts, such as those of the Vetements and Iuter brands. The spirit of this period, which conveyed messages of love and peace, was in complete harmony with the music of the time: in fact, they are also the years of The Beatles music. In this case, the Gucci men's t-shirts are perfect to go back to those years and evoke the typical hippie style of Woodstock.
The following decade, such as the 70s, are much more multifaceted in the fashion field, as this went hand by hand with music. On one side we have the Sex Pistols punk and damned style, on the other one, the sparkling and eccentric style typical of David Bowie's glam rock. Today, both of these styles can be easily replicated.
For the first case, obviously, we cannot fail to mention the t-shirts by Vivienne Westwood, founder par excellence of the punk-rock music and fashion movement, but at the same time the Alexander McQueen t-shirts with an always provocative style are also perfect, where the skull, the brand’s trademark, is omnipresent.
For a glam rock revival look, on the other hand, the Saint Laurent brand stands out, offering men's t-shirts enriched by studs, but at the same time also by glitter and sequins, clearing more and more that gender identity gap and redefining boundaries between masculine and feminine, characteristics that are increasingly taking place today in the so-called "genderless" fashion.
Between the 80s and 90s, short-sleeved t-shirts are by now the most common garment in anyone's wardrobe thanks to the advent of streetwear and this is the point when the men's t-shirts panorama is definitively expanded (in all senses!). Champion's or Nike’s t-shirts are used as the most effective means to make a product immediately recognizable, thanks also to the spread of the so-called logo-mania that today we also find in luxury brands such as in the Fendi t-shirts.
Also the fit start to change: if before it was more common to find t-shirts that enhance the figure, in this era, everything becomes more baggy and comfortable, and it is not unusual to wear two of them at a time: one with long sleeves underneath with short sleeves one on top. To recreate this trend today, you could wear the Carhartt or Palm Angels t-shirts together with the ones by The North Face or Vans, perhaps combined with a pair of wide-leg jeans and a pair of sneakers for a perfect ’90s style.
Among all, however, here we are witnessing in this period the birth of a brand that has managed to stand out for being able to best express the value of this garment, in the totality of the fashion system. We are talking about the t-shirts by Supreme which, in 1994, expanded its skate shop by launching a product destined to revolutionize the system: the Box Logo, a basic t-shirt, but with a very strong impact that, initially was sold for $ 20 and soon after, thanks to the role of status symbol, it has managed to reach resell figures equal to thousands of dollars, among countless variations and collaborations.
And it is thanks to this phenomenon that today, the men's t-shirts panorama is really very wide (in every sense!). In fact, all this has inspired the foundation of many brands with the aim of reaffirming and consolidating this trend, such as Gosha Rubchinskiy, Palace Skateboard and Heron Preston t-shirts. With purely oversized lines, they have become real cult objects, highly sought after and, for the most fanatical, to collect.
We cannot also fail to mention the t-shirts by Off-White™, a brand that, for its part, has triggered another type of phenomenon, namely, that of the elevation towards luxury, of a clothing item with a purely simple character.
This has led in a very short time, to a more than natural fusion between high fashion and streewear, starting exactly right from the short-sleeved t-shirt which, in no time at all, finds itself on the catwalks all over the world becoming the absolute protagonist in the collections of brands such as Dior, Versace, Prada, Louis Vuitton, without neglecting the current of minimalism carried on in Helmut Lang's t-shirts. So we move from mere functionality to a real choice of style which, through the play of shapes, volumes, materials and colors, establishes a new ideal of luxury.
Different is the Armani t-shirts case. In fact, King Giorgio, declaring himself “t-shirt addict" so much so that, not only he uses this garment as his personal uniform but, while maintaining its simplicity, he has managed to make it sexy and elegant at the same time, adapting it to any context.
And here we go with the 2000s. Well, what to say about the period that saw several fashions at the same time in just 10 years. In short, there was everything and more, but there was a trend in particular, followed by all the men on the planet: that of the sleeveless t-shirts, just like those worn by the sex-symbol par excellence of those years: David Beckham. This trend revived today and revisited in an avant-garde key and in multiple fabrics, as happens for example in Issey Miyake's tops.
Lastly, we find another trend born in the contemporary era that has re-invented the t-shirt according to its own stylistic dictates: the avant-garde brands with a Gothic vein. An example are t-shirts by Rick Owens who, thanks to cross cuts, visible stitching and ultra-long fit, have been able to re-invent the simplest garment in the wardrobe while maintaining its essence.
In conclusion, today we can definitely say that from a piece of underwear to a luxury item, the men's t-shirt has really led a long way!