A History Of Custom T-Shirts And Why They’re Timeless

With economies showing stability, the market for custom t-shirt printing is forecasted to experience a surge in growth following the rising income of both consumers and businesses.

A 2017 report conducted by Credence Research shows that a rise in the global income level of households, combined with shifting trends towards fashionable apparels, will result in the global market for custom t-shirt printing reaching an all-time high of US$ 10 billion by 2025.

So how did an undergarment that was designed to be worn under one’s clothes, transform into a multi-billion dollar product?

The history of the t-shirt dates back to the one-piece union suit of the 19th century. As a sort of button-down underwear worn by workers, the union suit was an effective way to keep miners and stevedores warm while working in cooler temperatures. Unfortunately, this one-piece wasn’t made for warmer temperatures, so often times workers were forced to cut them in half.

Eventually, sometime between the 1898 Spanish–American War and 1913, the U.S. Navy began issuing the earliest t-shirt—a short-sleeve crew-neck—to sailors and marines.

Inexpensive, well fitted, and easy to wash, pretty soon this cotton undergarment became popular with workers in other industries as well.

It wasn’t until the 1920s however, where the word t-shirt first appeared in F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel This Side of Paradise. Soon afterwards, t-shirt made its way into the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, thus becoming a part of American English.

By the time the Great Depression came around, the t-shirt’s popularity made it the go-to garment for doing farm and ranch work.

During World War II, it became more and more common for t-shirts to be worn casually. In 1942, Corporal Alexander Le Gerda become the first person in history to be seen wearing a graphic t-shirt on the cover of a magazine. Pictured wearing an Air Corps Gunnery School t-shirt on the cover of Life magazine, Le Gerda’s shirt featured a winged horned toad on a cloud shooting a .30 caliber machine gun.

Pretty soon it wasn’t out of the ordinary to see Navy men wearing t-shirts with their uniform trousers.

The t-shirt’s popularity as a fashionable outer garment was further cemented in American pop culture following Marlon Brando’s performance in 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

Shortly after, a number of companies in Miami, Florida began experimenting with decorating t-shirts with various brand names and cartoon characters. Following the opening of the very first Disneyland in 1955, Tropix Togs—one of the early pioneers of screen-printing—began printing official Walt Disney t-shirts featuring characters like Mickey Mouse and Davy Crockett.

By the early 60s, the graphic t-shirt surged in popularity, thus cementing its place in both the fashion industry and in pop culture. Soon enough, T-shirts were being used for everything from self-expression and commercial advertisements to protests against the Vietnam War.

As the 60s rolled into the 70s, the popularity of bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones only reinforced the graphic t-shirt’s popularity, with fans expressing their fandom across their chests—a trend that is now timeless.

Today, t-shirts are arguably the most common piece of clothing used today. Everyone owns one and why not? They’re casual, comfortable, and great for your day-to-day. Available in variety of different styles, designs and fabrics, t-shirts also make a great branding tool too! They’re inexpensive to produce, and may just be the extra push your brand needs. So why not push the button below for a free quote on custom t-shirts to market your business.


Bekhrad, Joobin. (2018, Feb). The T-shirt: A rebel with a cause. Retrieved from

Birth of the American Graphic T-Shirt. (2015, Sept). Retrieved from
Birth of the American Graphic T-Shirt: The Las Vegas Gunnery School Official WWII Shirt

T-shirt Market – Growth, Share, Opportunities & Competitive Analysis, 2015 – 2025. (2017, Nov). Retrieved from