It seems that there are three major factors leading to the widespread popularity of the T-Shirt: war, Hollywood, and politics.
According to The T-Shirt Book by noted screenprinting industry expert Scott Fresener, the beginning of the T-shirt is credited to the navy.
No one, says Fresener, really knows when the first T-shirt was produced. But the U.S. Navy adopted a crew-necked, short-sleeved, white cotton undershirt as issue to be worn under a jumper as early as 1913.
But it wasn’t until the thirties that both private companies (such as Sears) and the Navy started to make T-shirts that were suitable to be worn as outer garments. Even though T-shirts were standard issue for soldiers in World War Two, it was Hollywood that made T-shirts cool:
…movie stars such as Marlon Brando (A Streetcar Named Desire), James Dean (Rebel Without a Cause) and a young Elvis Presley made the T-shirt-as-outerwear sexy.
Considering that Streetcar was made in 1951, and Brando’s shirt was blank except for his sweat, it seems that New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey was way ahead of hist time when his presidential campaign became the first advertising campaign in history to use printed T-shirts:
The T-shirt is also a tabula rasa that for Decades has been turning its wearers into living, breathing billboards. The first T-shirt to serve this function was produced during the 1948 presidential race between Harry Truman and Thomas Dewey and read DEW-IT WITH DEWEY. Soon after, Anheuser-Busch became the first company to use T-shirts to sell a product.
Unfortunately, John Kerry’s T-shirts are far less adventurous than those of Dewey. Even Bush’s T-shirts are better. Which is why I, together with a bunch of talented people, have been working to start up Designs on the White House, an on-line contest (similar to MoveOn’s Bush in 30 Seconds contest) to design better T-shirts which we will then sell and donate the profits to the Kerry campaign.
Please help us by linking to this post, or telling people about the contest on your site.
Spread the word!