The Origin of The T-Shirt

The origin of the T-shirt is obscure. The shirt has been a part of clothing since ancient Egypt, consequently, there have been many garments which resemble a T-shirt. A type of cotton T-shirt was developed in England around 1880 as a form of underwear to be worn under men's shirts. It was originally called a "vest" or "under-vest". From 1913 to 1948 there was continuous development.

Most research mentions the possibility that the idea of the T-shirt came to the United States during World War II when US soldiers noticed the light cotton undershirts European soldiers were using while the US soldiers were sweating in their wool uniforms. Since they were much more comfortable they quickly became popular among the Americans, and because of their design they got the name T-shirt. Other experts credit the U.S. Navy's "light undershirt" from 1913, called a "crew neck". The Los Angeles Times claimed in 2006 that the Navy shirt as described in 1913's regulations state that the "light undershirt" was different from what is commonly worn today, with the Navy's version boasting an "elastic collarette on the neck opening" and other odd features.

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On these grounds, there are claims that Howard Jones asked the underwear company "Jockey" in 1932 to develop a sweat absorbing shirt for the USC Trojans football team, which they propose was the "modern personalized T-Shirt".

The origin of the name is uncertain: it may refer to the shape of the shirt as a "T", or it may derive from the use by the army as a "training shirt". The shape-based theory is supported by the existence of an A-shirt in the 1930s, which was the typical undershirt later referred to as a tank top. It is also a possibility that the name "tee" comes from amputee, a reference to the shortened length of the arms.

During World War II the T-shirt had become standard issue underwear in the U.S. Army and the Navy. Although the T-shirt was formally underwear, soldiers often used it without a shirt covering it while doing heavy labor or while stationed in locations with a hot climate, just like their former underwear. As a result, the public was frequently exposed to pictures of members of the armed forces wearing pants and a T-shirt. This became gradually more acceptable, as the cover of the July 13, 1942, issue of Life magazine shows, which features a picture of a soldier wearing a T-shirt with the text "Air Corps Gunnery School".

After WWII the personalized T-shirt started appearing without a shirt covering it in civilian life. According to the New York Times, the 1948 presidential campaign of New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey produced a "Dew It for Dewey" T-shirt, which was followed in 1952 by "I Like Ike" T-shirts in support of Dwight D. Eisenhower. John Wayne, Marlon Brando and James Dean all wore them on national TV. At first the public was shocked, but by 1955 it had become acceptable.

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