The T-shirt turns 100: A retrospective

  • Article by: KIM ODE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 17, 2013 - 4:10 PM

The old reliable T-shirt turns 100 this year. Hey! We should get T-shirts made!

In 1913, the U.S. Navy issued T-shirts to sailors to ensure that their chest hair — which tended to peek from the uniforms’ distinctive V-neck collars — would remain unseen.

Cue the slippery slope.

Below decks, the Navy then permitted “the dungaree outfit” — chambray shirt, white T-shirt and denim jeans — meant for working only, never to be worn while mingling with civilians.

Soon, other branches of the service began issuing the ever-practical T-shirt, with similar restrictions. All was well until servicemen returning from World War II wore their standard-issue white T-shirts as shirts. The look gained a following, then ignited at the sight of James Dean’s and Marlon Brando’s biceps.

The rest is fashion history.

Now, 100 years later, the T-shirt is as common as a cold. It can be chic or grungy, white or dyed, a mindless means of getting dressed or an object of great sentimental value. A T-shirt can be a canvas for incisive social commentary or a handy reminder of who’s with stupid.

In honor of its centennial, here’s a primer. Or in T-shirt lingo: My parents subscribed to the newspaper and all I got was this lousy story.

Six random questions (and answers)

Q: Why is it called a T-shirt?

A: Because it’s shaped like a T. (Yup, that’s all.)


Q: How many Americans have at least one T-shirt they refuse to throw away because of a sentimental reason?

A: 87 percent.


Q: What’s the most expensive T-shirt?

A: Perhaps a tee from Hermes made from specially treated crocodile skin, part of the French designer’s spring/summer 2013 collection. It retails for $91,500 in New York City. (Taxes? Add another $8,000.)


Q: Who inspired the first rock concert T-shirt?

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