Short unfitted tunics, or proto-type t-shirts can be seen to originate as far back as Ancient Egypt or Classical Rome, as depicted in sculpture. Such garments were simple, comfortable and practical garments that could easily be lengthened or worn in layers for cold weather.
Today's t-shirt "phenomenon" began in men's underwear: during the First World War, American soldiers were impressed with the lightweight cotton undershirts worn by their European counterparts, and as a result, the American military adopted such t-shirts as standard wear, although they were still regarded very much as undergarments. During the 1950s in America, t-shirts took off as outerwear through the popularity of stars like Marlon Brando, who famously wore a tight t-shirt in the film 'A Streetcar Named Desire' (1951), followed by James Dean in 'Rebel Without a Cause' (1955). The 1960s and 70s saw the first corporate t-shirts, printed by firms like Budweiser, whilst rock bands like Status Quo and Iron Maiden also printed commercial t-shirts for their fans. By the 1980s the mainstream fashion industry had also embraced the concept of the t-shirt, as shown in the TV series "Miami Vice" or the Richard Gere film "American Gigolo", in both of which they were worn under Armani Suits. T-shirts were used to convey political messages (eg "Thatcher Out" or to advertise allegiances to pressure groups (eg CND). From the 1990s onwards, the t-shirt has become the focus of a £500million business, being used to convey attitude, beliefs and cultural identity. It can be provocative and anti-establishment, comprising the ultimate billboard without obvious advertising boundaries.
Full item descriptions:
"t-shirt" [1973.218], T.K.T.
"shirt & t-shirt" [1972.254], Athletic Interlock
"t-shirt" [1996.120], CND
"dress" [1996.88], Rech, Georges
"t-shirt" [1992.2], Salamander
"top" [1989.69], Bellmans