News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by A Martínez
Airs Weekdays 2 to 3 p.m.
Arts & Entertainment

The T-shirt turns 100: A fashion icon's SoCal roots

Vintage T-shirts are on display at the Lo-Fi boutique on September 9, 2002 in Los Angeles, California.
Vintage T-shirts are on display at the Lo-Fi boutique on September 9, 2002 in Los Angeles, California.
Sebastian Artz/Getty Images

Listen to story

Download this story 2.0MB

If you look in your closet right now, how many T-shirts would you find? If you're like most people the answer is probably, "quite a few."

This year marks an important milestone in the life of the T-shirt: its 100th birthday. 

The T-shirt has been a staple of American culture for so long, we don't give a lot of thought to its origins. Where did it come from, and why did it get so popular?

Fashion blogger Michelle Tyree has the answers, saying the T-shirt traces its roots back to the U.S. military. 

"The first T-shirt as we know it came into being around 1913," says Tyree, "That's when its first inception began, when the U.S. Navy made it regulation for all of its sailors. After that the Army followed suit, and it became a go-to piece for blue collar workers everywhere from farmers to machinists to miners. It was a very, very practical item."

Back then, the T-shirt was seen primarily as a uniform for laborers. So why did it make the jump from the blue collar worker to the fashion world? Like many other fashion trends, the T-shirt got its big break from Hollywood.

According to Tyree, the T-shirt, "catapulted to fame when Marlon Brando wore it in '51 in 'A Streetcar Named Desire.' It became the must-have item, and soon, teens and cool kids everywhere wanted to wear it," said Tyree. 

Tyree says the popularity of the T-shirt was really cemented into American consciousness after James Dean wore one for his role as  in "Rebel Without a Cause."

Around this time, the demand for the T-shirt exploded. According to some reports, during the year 'A Streetcar Named Desire' was released, $180 billion worth of T-shirts were sold. From there, the T-shirt has only increased in popularity. But with this increase in popularity came an increase in price.

When the first real T-shirt design company, Michael Stars, began production in the early '90s, the shirts were priced in the $40-$50 range, an unheard of price for a T-shirt. Today, that's the low end of Michael Stars' products.

What's next for the T-shirt? Well, Tyree says the baggy style of the '80s is on the rise, but there are a lot of other options.

"That's been the great thing about a trend like this," she says, "It trickles down, and now everybody does a fashionable, wearable version."

Web article by Kyler Jae