The Past, Present, and Future of the T-shirt

By Trevor Jaureguy and Mathew O’Leary

The t-shirt is such a huge part of people’s lives today, but have you ever stopped to wonder where it all began?


The shirt was first used as an undershirt for Navy seals to wear; though most people now wear them on hot days since the material is very breathable.

“Early prototypes of the T-shirt emerged as an undergarment during World War I, although accounts of its origin vary – some sources peg it to the ‘light undershirts’ worn by U.S. Navy sailors starting in 1913. Others say they were worn by European soldiers during the hot summers and were ‘the envy of American troops, clad in wool uniforms,’” Virginia Linn Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said.

Soon after the war, the word “t-shirt” was added to the Webster Dictionary in 1920. The first printed t-shirt that was in a movie was a green t-shirt that read “OZ” in The Wizard Of OZ. Another originally printed t-shirt was for the Air Corps Gunnery School. Over time people started wearing them as an outer garment. Beginning in the 60’s, people started wearing them as means of self-expression.

“I also like shirts with cool logos or emblems from a local business that’s quirky. I don’t generally wear shirts with big national logos on them. I like quirky logo things,” teacher Geoffrey Land  said in an interview.


Another teacher, Brian Kerr, said that he likes t-shirts with surfing, sports and funny things on them.



Individuals all over America have used t-shirts for commercial advertising, displaying various messages, and protesting. Soon after, icons and cartoon characters were put on t-shirts such as Mickey Mouse and the iconic bright yellow smiley face. T-shirts nowadays have superheroes, famous people, movie posters, memes, logos, quotes, and patterns on them.

T-shirt companies have also created several types of t-shirts such as the crew neck, raglan, ringers, tanks, babydoll, spaghetti strap, v-neck, a-shirts, camisole, polo, and much more according to Teefetch. How they put on the designs has changed and grown.

“Methods such as airbrushing, embroidery, direct printing, heat transfer, silk screening, sublimation, plot, and needlepoint to name a few,” (teefetch). T-shirts are so much more than a clothing item; they are a way of expression, and a lot more comfortable than other cloths. Of the 50 people surveyed, 40 care about t-shirts. 4 don’t care, and 6 are neutral.

But enough about the past and present, more about the future. A new type of shirt is coming- one with a light-up screen. “That’s what whisky-maker Ballantine is aiming to do with high-tech clothier CuteCircuit. The two companies have a tshirtOS prototype made of 100 percent cotton featuring a 1024-pixel LED screen, headphone jack, and small digital camera, but it’s looking to iron out more functionality and bring this to the mainstream to keep manufacturing costs low,” (Forbes).

People will be able to say whatever they want on a t-shirt with a click of a button. They will be able to express their moods, display what they’re hungry for, have a light-up t-shirt party, and much more. This could change the way people look at t-shirts. Silk screening will no longer be needed. The wearer will become the designer of their own wardrobe, and the tee enthusiast will be able to leave their mark on the fashion world, just like the t-shirt itself did almost a century ago.

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