Seems hard to believe something as ubiquitous as the T-shirt was ever . . . new. But that's what it was back in 1913, when the U.S. Navy ordered sailors to wear them under uniforms. The tees came in three weights -- heavy, medium or light. Patch pockets, optional.
Nobody's clear on who dreamed up the tee, or when, but online tee-maker CustomInk has used the 1913 naval regulations as inspiration for a birthday celebration, of sorts, compiling a list of 100 iconic tees in history. Sure, it's clever self-promotion, but it's fun to surf through their tee timeline: The Che Guevara tee, the tuxedo-shirt tee, "I Love NY" -- they're all there.
T-shirts reflect who we are and what we believe in more than any other item of clothing, notes CustomInk president Marc Katz. "That's why we cherish them and why they stand the test of time," he explains.
These days, designers aren't exactly content with three weights, patch pocket optional. Tees are burned out, bedazzled and blaring any message you want the world to hear.
"A tee is such a classic silhouette-versatile and simple," says designer Rebecca Taylor, a fan who often includes tees in her runway collections. "A great white tee looks as good with diamonds as with trainers."
A TEE TIMELINE
1913 The tee is "born" as official undergarment to be worn under Navy uniforms.
1951 Marlon Brando in "A Streetcar Named Desire" renews interest with his muscle-baring torn crewneck. "Stellaaaaa!"
1960s Underwear becomes outerwear with iconic styles like the tie-dye and Che Guevara tees (ironically, the pro-Communist fighter for Cuba becomes an icon of capitalist merchandising).
1970s Tees soar in popularity: Tux, smiley-face and message tees are all the rage -- especially the "I Love NY" tourism campaign tee, spawning an "I (Heart)" movement.
1980s "Miami Vice" offers the tee-with-suit look.
2004 John Heder wears his "Vote for Pedro" tee in the film "Napoleon Dynamite."
TEES THAT GIVE BACK
To celebrate the tee's centennial, and its military origins, CustomInk is hosting monthly T-shirt fundraisers for each branch of the armed forces. July's "Semper Fi" tee honors the Marines; $20 (with profits -- at least $10 per shirt -- benefiting the Yellow Ribbon Fund, a nonprofit supporting injured veterans and their families) at tshirtbirthday.com.