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Continued: The T-shirt turns 100: A retrospective

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

A: The King, duh. One of Elvis Presley’s fan clubs produced one in the late 1950s.


Q: What is the Guinness World Record for “most T-shirts worn at once”?

A: A Sri Lankan gentleman, Sanath Bandara, donned 257 on Dec. 22, 2011.


Q: What technology made more than $50 million in four months in 1991?

A: The Hypercolor T-shirt that changed color if heated by, say, a palm print. Alas, the company was overwhelmed by the sudden success, and body heat patterns proved too, um, random.

Of course there’s a Minnesota connection

F. Scott Fitzgerald may have made the first literary reference to the T-shirt in his 1920 debut novel, “This Side of Paradise.” In it, Amory Blaine, a rich, cocky teenager from the Midwest, heads off to prep school in Connecticut with a wardrobe including “six suits summer underwear, six suits winter underwear, one sweater or T shirt, one jersey ... ”

Threadless: Wear your idea

In 2000, two guys from Chicago started a website where folks could post T-shirt designs. Then they invited people to vote on them, and the best one got printed on T-shirts. Every few months, they’d sell out and start a new contest. Then every few weeks. Then every week. In 2008, Threadless was touted as “The Most Innovative Small Company in America” by Inc. magazine, with estimated sales of $30 million. The key, according to a Harvard business professor, is how Threadless mashes up people as designers, producers, buyers, marketers and wearers. Today, releases 10 new designs each Monday, culled from submissions among its 2.5 million members. Oh, and they’re made in the USA.

T-shirts as souvenirs

A professor in Argentina in 1996 analyzed 2,100 T-shirts for a study about their role “in the creation of tourist destination images.” Among her findings:

“In the first place, it can be affirmed that the T-shirts are tangible souvenirs that prolong the tourist experience and, at the same time, allow for the symbolic appropriation of the place visited, evidencing the economic capacity of achieving a collective desire that is not possible for all.”

And you called it a lousy T-shirt.

Those notorious contests

Blame it on spring break. Palm Beach, Fla., is generally credited with being the place where, in the 1970s, buckets of water first were poured over the chests of bra-less coeds wearing thin white T-shirts. The mostly male audience then would judge which contestant had the highest grade point average.

The idea of wet-T-shirt contests actually originated in Spain in the 1940s during La Tomatina, where people throw juicy tomatoes at each other. The American version is so much (cough) cleaner.

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