A brief history of the T-shirt – from the Navy to the Prime Minister

A brief history of the T-shirt – from the Navy to the Prime Minister

All this week, HÖRFA have been celebrating the everlasting, impactful, humble t-shirt.

The t-shirt is arguably fashion’s most popular and affordable item of clothing ever, which also offers comfort and versatility across all genders, classes and cultures.

Industrial Revolution

During the Industrial Revolution, advancements in manufacturing of cotton birthed undergarments that were more breathable and fitted than their baggy and rough forerunners. T-shirts gradually became the preferred choice of workwear for miners and dockworkers.


The Upper-Class Undergarment

T-shirts were originally sets of underwear made of wool or silk that often covered the entire body, designed to absorb perspiration as a barrier between men’s skin and the more expensive outerwear they were looking to protect from bodily fluids and stains.

In the Navy

The modern-day t-shirt originally surfaced when issued by the US Navy around the Spanish American War. They were meant to be worn as underwear beneath uniforms but were soon adopted by the Army as standard issue given to recruits, preferring the lightweight fabric in hot weather conditions.

The Naming Ceremony

The term ‘T-shirt’ was first coined in the 1920’s by American fiction writer F.Scott Fitzgerald, who was responsible for writing ‘The Great Gatsby’.



Some of the earliest known printed t-shirts were seen in The Wizard of Oz, which were also very cleverly used as highly sought-after collectible souvenirs for promoting the 1939 film.


World War 2 lent the undershirt greater acceptance as outerwear, as soldiers issued the garments during service continued to wear them back home and around the house and garden. Civilians soon adopted the practise too.

A 1940’s Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue read, “You needn’t be a soldier to have your own personal t-shirt.”

LIFE Magazine

Credit for one of the first printed tees often goes to the Air Corps Gunnery School T-shirt featured on the July 13, 1942 front cover of LIFE magazine.

The Rebel’s Choice

Marlon Brando and James Dean both made the t-shirt ultra-cool in 1950’s.

Brando’s coarse character in A Streetcar Named Desire and James Dean’s iconic role in A Rebel Without A Cause planted the seed for the t-shirt to become the cultural renegade’s garment of choice.

Punk Power

A major milestone for the t-shirt came in the 1960’s when fashion designer Vivienne Westwood recognised the potential of the blank canvas for more overt political messages and bold statements.

A number of her designs caused such controversy that it even led to arrests for some of the people wearing her products.

Political Power

No history of the t-shirt could ever go without mentioning Katharine Hamnett, who cause quite a stir in the 1980’s with with her impactful political slogans, such as when she met the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and shook her hand whilst wearing a white t-shirt with the bold words, “58% DON’T WANT PERSHING”, a statement opposing the US setting up stations with nuclear missiles in on British soil.

Social Power

18-year-old designer Kayla Robinson was surprised when Frank Ocean wore her slogan t-shirt at Panorama Music Festival in August 2017, making international headlines as the product caught on and became a millennial must-have.

So there you have it, a very brief but knowledgeable history of the modest t-shirt that journeyed from underwear to the World War 2, to the silver screen to possessing prodigious political power! What a trip!

As part of HÖRFA's celebration of the iconic t-shirt, we are offering £5 off any order until midnight this Sunday (May 12).

Use discount code tshirt at checkout and grab yourself one of our stylish prints, like the F**k Religion tee below.

Click here to start shopping: https://horfawear.com/discount/tshirt

2 条评论

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