December 2019

The Rock Off Weekly Blog

Monday 09 December 2019


It was the late 19th century when t-shirts where first created, the creation of labourers who would cut their jumpsuits in half to stay cool in the hotter months of the year. It wasn’t until the Mexican-American War in 1898 that the first t shirts where manufactured in 1913 when the U.S. Navy began issuing T-shirts as standard undershirts.

After World War 2 it wasn’t uncommon to see veterans wearing a t-shirt tucked into their trousers, outside of that, t-shirts were almost exclusively used underneath proper clothes.

The big breakthrough came in 1950 when Marlon Brando famously wore a white t-shirt as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Then in 1955 James Dean followed in Rebel Without a Cause.

The t-shirt as a stand-alone outerwear garment soon became a very popular item to wear, it was also being associated with a movement of rebellion, t shirts became a political statement. In the late 1950’s several companies in Miami, Florida began experimenting with garment decoration, but this was well before the multi-billion dollar industry of t-shirt printing.

Republican presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey has been credited with creating the first ever slogan t-shirt with his “Do it with Dewey” campaign. Then later in the 1950s one of the printing companies in Miami mentioned earlier, known then by the name Tropix Togs, held the original license to print Walt Disney characters. Soon after people began to realise that the graphic t shirt was a profitable business and in the 1960s, innovations in the print field, including the birth of screen printing, would help turn the t-shirt industry into what it is today.

The 1970s became the real era for the powerful messaging of t shirts that we know today. The punk movement had a big effect and the rising popularity in rock band logos, along with the protests of the Vietnam War, helped to develop the t-shirt as a messaging platform. The ability for the t-shirt to shock and outrage people and challenge the status quo made the t shirt the go to medium for the message. 

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