. Old School Tees Blog: The Evolution of the Tee Shirt

The Evolution of the Tee Shirt

Tee shirts have come a long way since they were first introduced over a hundred years ago.  The T-shirt evolved from undergarments used in the 1800s , when the one piece “union suit” was cut into two parts. Laborers could shed outer layers in warm environments to help stay cool but still have some protection. They became popular in the US when the Navy made them standard issue during the Spanish American War. The T-shirt was easily fitted, easily cleaned, and inexpensive, and for this reason it became the shirt of choice for young men, both in and out of the armed forces.

They became a fashion statement in the 1950s after Marlon Brando wore one in A Streetcar Named Desire. James Dean made the plain white tee a longstanding icon of cool.  In the 1960s they evolved further with tie dye, reflecting the psychedelic era. People also began to use them to express political statements and for personal expression. They became souvenir items from concerts or events, and an emblem of one’s interests. Manufacturers began to mass produce designs like peace symbols, slogans, and rock icons like the Beatles.

The most common way of executing designs on a shirt is with a screen printer. A stencil made out of film is merged onto a
mesh screen. Ink is pressed through the screen, only appearing where the stencil is not blocking. Each color is applied with a different screen, so colors are layered on to the garment. Recently Direct-To-Garment printers have become popular,  making it easier to print multi-color designs at a single time.
These DTG printers are basically desktop ink jet printers adapted to a large print bed. Software makes it possible to
send a vector design to the printer. The shirt is mounted on a flat form and is run under the ink jets. 

Screen printing is better for large runs and tends to have a heavier weight of ink. You can feel the paint on top of the garment. DTG is great for a faded vintage look, as the ink is embedded in the garment.  DTG is a great solution for people who are seeking team shirts, or for a small event or business.  

That will be the topic of a future blog, my attempts to take a substantial amount of silkscreen printing experience (on paper mostly) and try to use it to master my DTG printer. As it turns out, not a lot of crossover. 

As for the ubiquitous t-shirt, hard to imagine life without this basic item of clothing. Long live the TEE!

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