Ah, the white t-shirt, now where would we be without this iconic staple of fashion for every generation in the last 100 years. From the sailors and movie stars of the mid-20th century, to the fashionistas and rappers of the new millennium, this garment has long represented the height of effortless, sexy chic.
The white t-shirt may be simple, but it’s never been “basic.” Here’s how this scrappy shirt got its start.
From Boats to Brando
Fashion historians agree that we have sailors to thank for decades of blissfully tee’d comfort. Sometime in the late 19th century sailors began cutting their full-body “union suits” in half in an attempt to adapt the cold-weather wear to warmer months. Thus, they created the two-piece “long johns” design that still exists today, while the top half of the newly bi-sected union suit became the ancestor of the classic tee.
The t-shirt lost its heavy-knit construction over the years, and by the time it was officially adopted as undergarment crew-wear by the US Navy in 1913 it had achieved the lightweight, short-sleeve cotton styling that would become its hallmark.
T-shirts remained undergarments for everybody but children and outdoor workers until the end of World War II, when soldiers, who had worn only t-shirts with their uniform pants, continued to do so once they returned home.
Classic white tees were recognized staples of casual wardrobes, but they only became fashion icons once Hollywood embraced their promise. In 1951, a certain smoldering performance in “A Streetcar Named Desire” set hearts aflame across the country — aided and abetted by the classic lines of that now historic tee. While Marlon Brando wore it in the traditional “shirt and pants” arrangement, James Deen was the one who revealed an entire universe of styling potential.
The White Tee Hits the Big Time
With his classic white t-shirt underneath a leather jacket and ’50s-cool shades, Deen showed the world that the tee’s true power lay in its versatility. Before long, the rockabillys and their rolled sleeves gave way to hippies in bell bottoms, who often layered lavish beaded accessories over the basic white foundation to craft their look.
Toward the late sixties the basic white tee retreated to life as an undershirt, while its cousins were slathered with logos, elaborate patterns and politically charged sloganeering. Yet by the time the rockabilly revival began to take hold in the early ’80s, the classic white t-shirt had regained its throne as the king of both under- and outerwear. Stars loved it for its ability to anchor wild ’80s leather outfits, and before long the burgeoning rap movement embraced oversized tees above oversized jeans as its calling card.
Today, the classic white t-shirt has cemented its place in the fashion pantheon. From businessmen who rely on cotton comfort under their suits, to vanguard fashionistas experimenting with dramatic v-necks and fabric blends, thousands of white t-shirt variations proudly hold their place in billions of closets around the world.
Jockey Brings the Classic White T-Shirt Into the Future
Here at Jockey, we understand how much love our customers have for the classic white t-shirt. Styles evolve constantly, but we want to make sure our tees continue anchoring your closet just as they have for decades.
That’s why we’re proud to introduce our new StayNew® Technology for both tops and bottoms, guaranteed to help your tees stay snow white and soft, wash after wash. StayNew® also
- reduces pilling,
- improves color retention and
- preserves fabric softness.
Our Diamond White & Bright® technology keeps your whites looking white, and our stay dry fabric wicks away moisture for all-day comfort.
There is so much history behind the white tee, and we think it’s only right that Jockey Classic T-shirts get the best of the best, just like our customers.