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Plain Apparel, Rich History — The HHHumble T-Shirt

Our friend George can’t stop wearing cool T-shirts but he decides to roast T-shirts. So here he goes …

It all began in the mid-1800s. A time when Victorian manhood's golden rule was that women should be trussed up like Thanksgiving turkeys, whatever the season. They claimed the rule applied under no more than four conditions: when outdoors, when indoors, in company, or alone. Which was big of them.

This left sisters with little wriggle room — a position that also describes the wearing of the whalebone corsets society expected them to endure at the time. So, they decided that having their waistlines crushed as if encircled by a reticulated python throwing a hissy fit was a price they were no longer willing to pay for being fashionable.

Suddenly — or so it seemed — women everywhere unleashed their breasts from the tyranny of Victorian stereotyping. En masse, the daughters of Eve discarded their whalebone corsets for a newfangled undergarment called a Union Suit. The top sections of the Union Suit, sliced in half at the waist, became the men's T-shirt. Present-day sales of this humble garment generate revenues topping $70 billion in the USA alone.

Scourge of The Malodorous Armpit

Early 20th-century clothing worn by working men was often cumbersome. Air conditioning was in its infancy — as, in rougher areas, was hygiene. In the summer, the fumes from a single steel worker's end-of-shift armpit could strip the wallpaper from a two-room apartment in under a minute. Something had to be done.

That 'something' was to change the perception of the T-shirt from an undergarment to an outer garment and make it socially acceptable to wear in public without scaring the horses. This mission was easily achieved,
and soon legends of the silver screen, like Marlon Brando and James Dean, made the T acceptable but sexy too. And if it was good enough for Brando, it wasgood enough for American males everywhere.

Scourge of the American teenager

The T-shirt acquired a reputation as a medium for self-expression, especially amongst teenagers (or, as their parents called them, rebels without a clue.) Logos on tens of thousands of T's screamed, 'I love Snoopy!' The youth of the day were, in effect, saying, 'You can't tell me what to wear!'

During the 70s, at the height of the tie-dye T-shirt fad, long-haired, neo-Marxist university students, hell-bent on social revolution, vowed, using words on their T-shirts, to 'turn on, tune in, and drop out.' Many dedicated themselves to smoking their body weight in pot before their freshman year was out. To these guys, the T-shirt was a cultural marker.

Pop Culture

Once society realised the possibilities of advertising in cotton, Pop Culture muscled in on the act. T-Shirts soon became mobile pieces of mini real estate — pint-sized billboards for Pepsi and Coke, and if buyers demanded, and the price was right, for the Jasper branch of the Alberta men's over-sixties twerking club.

The T-shirt quickly became a fashion statement. A man, looking like a tortoise that had lost its shell could pull a T over his head, transforming himself into a shell-free tortoise with a Superman logo on his chest. He could have worn a Batman or Iron Dude logo instead, so vast was the consumer's choice. The T-shirt had become the most ubiquitous garment since the sock.

The imagery available to adorn T-shirts exploded. You could have Albert Einstein with his tongue sticking out like a second grader, if you wanted. And, thanks to advances in computer-driven printing technology, you could have Abraham Lincoln thrashing a ukulele on horseback if that’s the sort of thing that floated your boat.

As a consequence of the T-shirt’s rapid evolution, modern students of irony now benefit from an irony dividend. They can enjoy the spectacle of sixty-a-day mucho macho Marlboro men, fifty packs shy of coughing their lungs inside out from dawn to dusk, wearing T-shirts with the Egyptian key of eternal life splashed across the chest.  

What Next?

The fashion industry constantly faces the future, as do T-Shirt trends. Upcoming collections are predicted to include rock band graphic T-shirts, oversized T’s and T-Shirts in the Quiet Luxury niche, such as any of the items in the Brunello Cucinelli range, some of which cost the thick end of $1000! That kind of money would have bought you 2,000 straight-front, five-hook, Sears and Roebuck summer corsets back in the day — which is kind of where we came in.

At Magick, we make shirts that are striking and deep and we embrace this deep and diverse history of T shirts. Let’s all express, and let’s have fun.

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