History of the white T-Shirt

For more than a 100 years it has been steadily growing in popularity: The white T-shirt. Invented by the U.S. military at the turn of the century, it was idolized by James Dean in the mid-1950s as a symbol of masculinity and nonchalance. The story of an eternal fashion trend.

1904 – The "Cooper Underwear Company" publishes a newspaper ad with the announcement of an innovation: The bachelor undershirt. "No safety pins, no buttons, no thread" was its slogan. The modern T-Shirt had been invented.

1913 – The U.S. Military starts distributing a buttonless "slip-on" shirt during the Spanish-American war around 1913. The short-sleeved white cotton undershirt is worn under every soldier’s uniform ever since


1920 – The "T-Shirt" gets its name when the writer Scott Fitzgerald uses the word creation for the first time in a book. Afterwards, the word "T-Shirt" is eventually added to the Merriam-Webster-Dictionary.

1951 – In America, the white Tee becomes widely popular in the 1950s, when actor Marlon Brando is wearing it in the Hollywood movie "A Streetcar named desire".

1956 – The movie "Rebel Without a Cause" makes James Dean an American icon overnight and brings the white T-Shirt its cult status to this day.

1977 – The graphic designer Milton Glaser invents the shirt design "I love NY" that skyrockets the New York souvenier market instantly. To this day, his print is one of the most popular designs in the history of the white T-Shirt.

1980 – In the 80’s, the white T-Shirt becomes the "empty canvas" of any message for people that belong to a certain movement. The New York Times therefore gives the white T-shirt its flattering nickname: "Medium for the Message".

2010 – In 2010, the bulletproof vest becomes somewhat "James Dean-cool", when scientists invent the world’s first bulletproof white T-Shirt in 2010.

2 Billion T-Shirts are approximately sold globally every year.

6 Miles of yarn is necessary to manufacture just one single T-Shirt.

2.700 Liters of water are used to grow the cotton needed for one T-shirt.


New York Times; BBC; Tagesspiegel; Wikipedia; Huffington Post

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