5/20/10

Fads #12: The T-Shirting of America


Walk down the street in any city and town in America and you’ll find that 99% of the people are wearing t-shirts. Prior to the 70s, however, it was fairly rare: t-shirts were primarily worn underneath a collard shirt. On occasion, folks would walk around with their plain white tees, but that was generally just for doing sweaty, dirty jobs. After A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), greasers would wear them, and it was fairly common for younger kids to play around in their plain whites.

So, how did the t-shirt become such an omnipresent fashion in the U.S.? In large part, we can thank the hippies. Not only was the t-shirt popularized as a source of self-expression (example: tie dye shirts), but the entire culture changed to a less buttoned down lifestyle. Starched collars were out and t-shirts were officially in.



I bring this up mainly because I'd forgotten that, not too long ago, the t-shirt with a saying or image on it was a novel idea.  Kids in the 60s didn't have Incredible Hulk or "I'm with stupid" T-shirts.  I remember when stores offering only iron-ons were extremely common. 


Back in the 70s, I valued my t-shirts as prized possessions.  True story: one Summer I was walking a dog for a neighbor who was away on vacation, when the mutt took off and literally dragged me on my stomach the length of a stretch of sidewalk.  My chest was horribly scraped and bloody, but I remember being more upset about my now torn to shreds Close Encounters of the Third Kind t-shirt. Skin would grow back - but I may never get another t-shirt like this!

So, as a salute to the glory days of the t-shirt, back when it was new and exciting, here's a few of my favorite vintage tees. Enjoy!









14 comments:

  1. I still have a red "I'm a Pepper" shirt that is so worn you can barely read it, and a muscle shirt that has "Problem" with a big red circle-line thing symbolizing "no."

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  2. I remember wearing Snoopy and Spider-man shirts a lot as a kid in the 70's. My absolute favorites though were a Darth Vader shirt that my neighbor got me and a Star Trek the motion picture shirt that I wore until it pretty much fell apart at the seams.

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  3. Great post!

    T-shirts are pretty much my only shirts.

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  4. One side of our walk-in closet is my T-shirts. My favorites from the '70s were the ones I had custom made at T-shirt shops while on vacation in the Ozarks. One was yellow with the big Harley-Davidson "1" on the front like pictured above, the HD "wings" logo on the back, and my nickname "TUT" in disco lettering across the back. I bet it's still in our old-clothes-that-don't-fit closet.

    Ed Roth and the whole monster shirt craze also helped fuel our obsession with wearing T-shirts as everyday wear while expression our personalities. If you don't have at least 1 Rat Fink shirt in your closet, well... what the hell's wrong with you?!

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  5. You are absolutely right, dude. I found myself struck by the same phenomenon some months back. I was visiting my parents & looking through my mother's photo albums, which contain pics of our family members going all the way back to the 1940's. And as I progressed into my own childhood pictures in the 1970's, it dawned on me that this was the first decade where everybody is suddenly wearing T-shirts with goofy pictures on them. You thumb back to the pages of my mom and dad as kids, with their parents and - everybody is dressed very presentably - Men in button-up shirts, Women in blouses. Then you look at us, all wearing stupid advertisements for this movie or that soft drink. It actually made me embarrassed for my whole generation. Okay, yeah, I loved my Darth Vader T-shirt when I was in grade school and I still wear t-shirts with my favorite bands or characters on them. But now every time I put them on, I can't help thinking what morons we all are - and how much more dignity people had before us.

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  6. In the mid-1970s, well before digital cameras, I used to mail 35mm film canisters to a developing lab. They would often get empty envelopes (because the envelope had torn and the film fell out) and loose canisters of film. What they would do is develop all the loose film, pick a distinctive photo from each set, pin the photos to a board and take a picture of it. They would then mail a 5x7 copy of this picture to the return addresses on the empty envelopes. There might be 50 rolls of film represented. This happened to me once and I was instantly able to recognize my picture because of the distinctive tee shirt I was wearing. It was from the magazine New Times.

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  7. In early 1979, some neighbors threw out a staggering amount of silscreen transfer/iron on decals; I mean there were thousands of them...anyway, 99% of these iron ons featured buxom women or lewd expressions. The teenagers on the block picked through this neighbor's trash and thus was born the lewd T-Shirt craze of 1979.

    Every teen was wearing one of these shirts. One time, my babysitter brought her friends over and amid the longhaired, pot smoking crowd was this one guy in cordouroys and feathered hair but the kicker was that his found-in-the-garbage t-shirt transfer was a large-breasted woman with one of her boobs stuck in between the planks of a wooden fence! Her mock expression of pain was what made this shirt a classic; I'd pay real money to find this again.

    http://neo-edwardian-hipster.blogspot.com

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  8. mandy_ReevesMay 22, 2010

    my dad and mom had some pretty risque' his n hers tees from the 70's

    My fave is my dads "Home of the whopper" and my mom's "Home FOR the whopper", done in Burger king logo lettering.

    She had another one that said "I'll try anything once...twice if I like it." She wore it to some concert, and I think some super famous dude hit on her. Pretty sure it was Eric Clapton or Peter Frampton. She said it was a famous guitar player, so...

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  9. All ya gotta do is find high school annuals from the 60s on...1969? All ties, trimmed neat hair, and dresses. 1972? Suddenly a flurry of sideburns, long hair, and..."Beer Makes Bigger Bellies" t-shirts!

    Al Bigley

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  10. I had a Morris the cat T-shirt and a Rocky and Bullwinkle sweatshirt when I was a kid in the 70's.

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  11. for a t-shirt nut such as myself, this was a fantastic post!

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  12. I had a "I heart Fig Newtons" shirt that I wore to death back when you could send in proof of purchase & get cool free stuff. This post makes me yearn for the bygone franchise known as T-Shirt Express, that place that ironed on kick on decals on the shirt of yr choice

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  13. Really quality full clothes.Thanks for sharing high quality full brand's clothes sharing ,,,,,,,,,,,
    sleeveless shirts.

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