T-Shirt Still Tops In Everyday Fashion

As the summer heats up, more and more of us will be stripping down to that barest of fashion necessities, the T-shirt.

As one man on the street tells CBS Sunday Morning host Charles Osgood, "I feel free. I just feel not constrained and not held back by anything. You can just be yourself."

Once worn strictly as underwear, the American T-shirt came of age under fire. It evolved as a form of military garb.

A decade later, the U.S. navy borrowed the idea of a t-shaped flannel shirt from the British.

And by World War II, the U.S. army had gotten into the act with the tank top. Throughout the war, sleeves remained strictly for sailors.

"The T-shirt really is a navy item and the army copied it. I can say that unequivocally," Walter Bradford, an army historian, says.

Bradford has documented the T-shirt's rise to fame on the backs of America's military men and women.

He notes that soldiers serving in the sweltering Pacific couldn't help but envy the T-shirts worn as outerwear by sailors and marines. So in 1948, the army followed suit with the so-called 'quarter-sleeve undershirt.'

And when Johnny came marching home, so did a new fashion trend.

"With the GI Bill, with service members coming out of their respective services going to the universities, they often brought part of their military uniform with them to wear," Bradford says.

In the 1950s, movie rebels like James Dean proved it didn't matter whether they had a cause, so long as they dressed the part -- in a T-shirt, of course -- and in "A Streetcar Named Desire" it was Marlon Brando's torn T that drove Stella to distraction.

Sixties psychedelia found a perfect canvas on the T-shirt and the sexual revolution proved it an equal-opportunity garment. Although it must be said, that the subsequent development of the wet T-shirt has left many feminists cold.

Of course, for all the ways we can wear a T-shirt, their real statement is often something to be read. Indeed, the T-shirt often speaks louder than we do.

But most T-shirts do less to provoke than they do to promote. Whether it's a rock band or a soft drink brand, it seems there's no better billboard.

Still, purists can take heart: of the estimated 2 billion T-shirts sold last year, it seems the number-one selling style in America remains plain, old, white.
  • Sean Alfano

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