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How Did the T-Shirt Become So Popular?

Updated May 16, 2024
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Long before Marlon Brando turned the T-shirt into a style icon in the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire, the garment was known as a shirt for bachelors who couldn't sew. Although there were a number of earlier variations, the first real T-shirt was produced by the Cooper Underwear Co. in 1904, just after the Spanish-American War. The shirt was marketed as a comfortable, no-fuss garment you could pull over your head and forget about.

Within a decade, the U.S. military had started issuing cotton pullovers, which were particularly useful to soldiers stationed in warm and tropical places. From then on, working men all over began donning the shirt, but it wasn't until novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about "T-shirts" in This Side of Paradise that the simple shirt got its lasting name. Today, the T-shirt is ubiquitous and worn by men, women and children all over the world, being sold in the billions every year.

More "T" trivia:

  • The first promotional T-shirt was created for the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.

  • A UK manufacturer sells the world's most-expensive T-shirt, which has 16 diamonds sewn into it and costs $400,000.

  • In 2019, Ted Hastings donned 260 T-shirts at the same time, setting a new Guinness World Record.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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