No one can beat the Americans at t-shirts.
Americans are, without a doubt, the best creators, purveyors, and wearers of t-shirts, and have always been. Perhaps it’s because they were invented here in the 1800s, perhaps it’s because t-shirts are the official uniform of Americans of all shapes, sizes, and ages. But whatever it is, the US does t-shirts better than anyone else.
When I lived in Cambridge, England, last year, I saw relatively few t-shirts, or at least the American-style ones with writing on them.
But back here in the US, t-shirts are everywhere: showing the names of colleges and universities; sports teams; philanthropic causes; athletic events such as 5 and 10Ks and marathons; political causes and political candidates. My favorites are the clever ones that make me laugh.
Here are a couple that caught my eye last week in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on the tip of Cape Cod and that inspired me to write this post:
And my personal favorite:
And for a certain 18-year-old with whom I am closely connected:
And here’s a wonderful sign that I saw on a fence in Provincetown, which SHOULD be a t-shirt:
Do you have any favorite t-shirts?
* A brief history of t-shirts from Wikipedia:
“The T-shirt evolved from undergarments used in the 19th century, through cutting the one-piece “union suit” underwear into separate top and bottom garments, with the top long enough to tuck under the waistband of the bottoms. T-shirts, with and without buttons, were adopted by miners and stevedores during the late 19th century as a convenient covering for hot environments.
‘T-shirts, as a slip-on garment without buttons, originally became popular in the United States when they were issued by the U.S. Navy during or following the Spanish American War. These were a crew-necked, short-sleeved, white cotton undershirt to be worn under a uniform. It became common for sailors and Marines in work parties, the early submarines, and tropical climates to remove their uniform “jacket”, wearing (and soiling) only the undershirt.
US Merchant Marine sailor in 1944.
“Named the T-shirt due to the shape of the garment’s outline, it soon became popular as a bottom layer of clothing for workers in various industries, including agriculture. The T-shirt was easily fitted, easily cleaned, and inexpensive, and for this reason it became the shirt of choice for young boys. Boys’ shirts were made in various colors and patterns. By the Great Depression, the T-shirt was often the default garment to be worn when doing farm or ranch chores, as well as other times when modesty called for a torso covering but conditions called for lightweight fabrics.
World War II to 1950s
US Engineers and medics wearing T-shirts in 1951, during the Korean War.
“Following World War II, it became common to see veterans wearing their uniform trousers with their T-shirts as casual clothing, and they became even more popular in the 1950s after Marlon Brando wore one in A Streetcar Named Desire, finally achieving status as fashionable, stand-alone, outer-wear garments.
“Today, many notable and memorable T-shirts produced in the 1970s have now become ensconced in pop culture. Examples include the bright yellow happy face T-shirts, The Rolling Stones tops with their “tongue and lips” logo, and Milton Glaser‘s iconic “I ♥ N Y” design.”
Leslie Pappas said:
Virginia A Smith said:
Can’t say I’m such a big fan of the t-shirt with writing. I always feel self-conscious reading someone’s chest (especially if a woman).
I did also find that we collected t-shirts to a ridiculous extent when in the US. If you were in a sports team, there was a t-shirt. Probably every season. If you were in a play, there was a t-shirt. If you did backstage, there was a t-shirt. When it was Field Day, there was a t-shirt. At Vacation Bible Club, there was a t-shirt. One day, for no reason I could fathom, a mother had a t-shirt printed for every child in the class with a quote on it “Be the change you wish to see in the world” (though it had a spelling mistake on it). If there was a science day, there was a t-shirt. I ended up with a stack of them, in each child’s closet. Couldn’t help feeling it was a bit of a waste of the world’s finite resources… and land-fill space… Just because it’s cheap to produce, doesn’t mean we all have to have a new one, every time we join a team, go to a party, an event, etc etc
Virginia A Smith said:
Yep, I’ve got ’em too and I agree with you, it’s completely over the top (little joke there). This profusion of t-shirts are taking up a significant amount of storage space, though I’ve given a lot away so they’re now on someone’s back in an overseas country or have been made into more cloth or insulation. My solution to all the t-shirts is to keep those that mean something to my kids, such as the t-shirts that they made as kindergarteners for Martin Luther King Day, the sports teams they liked being on, the plays they worked on. My plan is to get them made up into a quilt to give to each of my kids as a memory of their childhood, but that’ll happen once they leave for college and I have a bit more time! Thanks for writing. As always, you’re spot on!
OH Ginnie, Thank you for this post! I now know what to get a certain author for his birthday. He claims quite seriously to be nearly perfect! So much that it scares ME…but apparently not him! Thanks for the great post!