Graphic T-shirts first hit mainstream media in 1939 when workers in The Wizard of Oz (a film in the vanguard of creative and technological development) re-stuffed the scarecrow wearing green T-shirts emblazoned with the word OZ.
The next generation-like myriad fashion trends-was born of the military: enlisted men were commonly issued T-shirts baring names of their branches or training programs during World War II. In 1942 Life Magazine dedicated a cover and significant spread to these garments and the men who wore them, reflecting the trend of veterans proudly wearing their military T-shirts in civilian life.
But it was a combination of Hollywood sex appeal, technological advance, and commercial foresight that really established the T-shirt-graphic or otherwise-as wardrobe staple. Marlon Brando made T-shirts sexy as Stanley Kowalski in the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire; the screen-printing ink Plastisol was invented in 1959, providing designers more creative freedom with graphics; and around the same time, Miami’s Tropix Togs acquired exclusive rights from Disney to print characters like Mickey Mouse (and Florida resort names) on their T-shirts.
In the 1960’s and 70’s Graphic T’s grew up and got cool: bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin promoted themselves with iconic images printed on T-shirts, and designs reflecting Counterculture sold out. The 1980’s marked an era of logo-mania when companies like Guess, Nike, Adidas, Stussy, Quicksilver and Billabong cashed in on branded T-shirt popularity, and by the millenium, vintage Graphic T’s from the 60’s and 70’s began their reign as It-Girl status symbols.
Today, Graphic T-shirts are a centerpiece of modern wardrobes and linchpin of self-expression, marrying high fashion and street-style sensibilities. Case in point: one of the most-talked about designs from Maria Grazia Chiuri’s first collection for Dior was the “We Should All Be Feminists” T-shirt inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay and TEDx talk of the same name. They retail $710, and a percentage of sales benefits The Clara Lionel Foundation.
Whatever your taste, whatever your budget, Graphic T’s invite you to say it loud and wear it proud; this presents difficulties (some messages are offensive or challenging, sparking broad and intense conversation). More largely, Graphic T-shirts represent a value we hold dear: the right to freedom of expression.
Give these interesting takes on Graphic T’s from Vogue a look:
Find one or two Graphic T-shirts that speak to you and work them into your wardrobe (sneaking them under a staid blazer or pair with an elegant knife-pleated skirt for contrast).
PS: Thank you to research provided by Melmarc and Start-up Fashion
PPS: You can shop Graphic T’s at Common Threads Boulder and Denver now!