Reviewed & updated: October 19, 2022 by Jamie Wilson BA
With Spring on the horizon, it’s time to start ditching the jumpers and opting for t-shirts. As a wardrobe-essentials go, tee’s are pretty high on the list so with this in mind, we take a look at its history with a guide to the 6 best t-shirts for men.
The t-shirt has staked its place in military wear, Hollywood, and even on the catwalks of haute couture fashion houses. But what is so iconic and universally appealing about the t-shirt? Well, it’s simple – that’s it. The T-shirt is simple and a classic – something that never dates and goes with just about anything you can throw at it.
The t-shirt feels like a thoroughly recent invention, but it actually dates back to 1913. Originally issued to the US Navy as an undergarment, as with many articles of clothing the t-shirts roots lie in military wear – cottoning on to its simple style and functional design, it was similarly issued by the army.
Termed t-shirt for its resemblance to the letter T when laid flat, by the 1920s the term entered mainstream vocabulary when it was inducted into the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
The t-shirt continued life as a standard-issue garment up until the mid-1940s when soldiers returning from the war were noticed wearing t-shirts with uniform trousers in their downtime. Comfortable and light, the t-shirt was a welcome alternative to the restricting and agitating materials army and navy uniforms were traditionally fashioned from. Word spread and the t-shirt was soon adopted by ordinary workers employed in hot, cramped conditions and children playing outside.
By the 1950s, Hollywood had elevated the t-shirt to icon status when its own icons were placed on the silver screen wearing the garment. Marlon Brando (A Streetcar Named Desire) and James Dean (Rebel Without a Cause) epitomized the impossibly cool Hollywood heartthrob that every girl wanted to date and every guy wanted to be, all whilst wearing the t-shirt.
Then came the epochal band tee of the ’70s that over time made the logos of bands like The Rolling Stones and Nirvana synonymous with their identity and kick-started the concept of the band as a brand.
The t-shirt has come a long way since its humble beginnings as military issue underwear – Hermès Spring/Summer ’13 collection featured their own crocodile skin version for a whopping $91,500. Safe to say we gave that one a miss, but it just goes to show that even the world’s major fashion houses aren’t exempt from dipping their toes into the commercial pond that is the t-shirt.
The Plain White T-Shirt
The plain white t-shirt is still the original and still, the best – case closed. From its roots as a military issue undergarment to becoming the uniform of Hollywood icons, the plain white t-shirt is the king of t-shirts. Wear it with a suit, with jeans or with joggers – either way, you’re guaranteed no fuss and instant style every time. Just make sure the quality is there, there are no thrills or spills with a plain white tee; opting for a cheaper price point and poor quality will make you stand out for all the wrong reasons.
The Raglan T-Shirt
The Raglan T-Shirt has always been a favorite on baseball pitches but its namesake is where its real heritage lies. Lord Raglan – who incurred an arm injury during the Battle of Waterloo – was designed a piece of armor that had an extendable shoulder detail to make it easier for him to dress.
This feature was incorporated into the raglan t-shirt to create a contrasting sleeve stopping at an angle to the shoulder. You can get these in both short and long-sleeved T-shirts for men, and both designs give a subtle, alternative look that’s great for matching with jeans and Converse.
The Striped T-Shirt
The Breton top was originally issued to the French Navy as a practical and comfortable uniform for sailors in the mid-1800s. The eye-catching design was made up of 21 stripes – allegedly to signify each of Napoleon’s Victories – and was a useful aid to spot sailors who had gone overboard.
In 1917, Coco Chanel designed a nautical-inspired line and introduced stripes to a commercial following. Picked up by the Beatniks during the ’50s for its simple and enduring style, the Breton top experienced further success.
Striped t-shirts are very similar variations of the Breton top. They have a rich maritime history and a timeless appeal.
The Sleeveless T-Shirt
Hailed as the t-shirt of choice for gym-bunnies, when going to the gym to workout became a popular past time during the ’80s, wearing a sleeveless t-shirt whilst you were doing it became second nature.
A sleeveless t-shirt would keep you cool whilst showing off your assets at the same time. That’s about it on the history front. A sleeveless t-shirt is a great option for hot climates and gym sessions. Wear it with joggers or shirts for an effortless casual look.
The Graphic Print T-Shirt
When you wear a t-shirt printed with a logo or graphic you are saying something about yourself, about your identity.
Since the 1950s and the inception of screen printing techniques, the medium of the graphic t-shirt has been used to promote brands and businesses.
The graphic print t-shirt really made a name for itself during the early ’80s when big names like Bobby Hundreds (The Hundreds), Shepard Fairey (Obey), and Paul Mittleman and Adam Weissman (Stüssy) were just starting out. Back then there was an almost political hype surrounding the graphic t-shirt, which had previously been the reserve of the band, surf, and skate logos. The graphic t-shirts’ political awakening made it popular with youth subcultures that had something to say.
Today, graphic t-shirts are still a popular way to plainly display our favorite brands or labels, or inadvertently attest to political beliefs.
The Long Sleeve T-Shirt
Little is recorded about the history of the long sleeve t-shirt, but common sense denotes that the adaption of the long sleeve was functioned over fashion. The long sleeve, providing warmth and protection, is an apt adjustment for colder climates.
It is unknown when the long sleeve t-shirt made its way onto the market, but today it is considered a practical and efficient wardrobe staple.
1. Do Premium T-Shirts Shrink?
2. How Many Years Should A Shirt Last?
3. What T-Shirt To Go For?
On that note…
So as you can see, the humble t-shirt comes in a range of colors, patterns, and shapes, and there’s really no one size fits all. Whatever your style you’re bound to find a T-shirt or vest that’s easy to throw on, is good quality, and is versatile enough to mix and match with a range of looks.