There is a canon of American fashion—the articles carved in the Mount Rushmore of clothing: the hightop sneakers, the baseball hat, the denim jacket—all of which promote a timeless American aesthetic, birthed from the second half of the 20th century. An aesthetic of sandlots, desert highways, freedom marches, jazz-punk-rock-and-roll, cigarettes, beat poetry, and paint cans. This faded style will never fade.
But the grand daddy of them all—the George Washington—the stone that American vogue burst from, is the white t-shirt. What started as a one-way undergarment commissioned to U.S. sailors in the Spanish-American and First World war soon became a multi-faceted staple, synonymous with getting things done. The shirt was light, fitted, and cheap; it became an American symbol of manhood, of working with your hands, of industry and strength and power.
In the wake of World War two, a wave of young men returned to the States as world- conquerors bringing with them not only the character, but the style, of a classic man—a hero. Veterans started wearing their t-shirts as outer garments and the shirt was inexpensive and easy to clean—perfect for spirited and adventurous children. By the time Marlon Brando, standing in his stained and drenched and torn shirt, released a powerful “STELLA!” in 1951’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the t-shirt was a stand-alone garment; a perfect fit for the American male, from adolescence to middle age.
With the rise of the “teenager” and social awareness in the sixties, the basic-tee quickly evolved to include graphics, designs, and advertisements; a mode of commercialization and a tool for profit. It became a way to express beliefs loudly and publicly, concerned more with the popular trend of the day than anything else. A result of this was a loss of the individual. The clothes made the statement rather than the person wearing them. With the white t-shirt, it was and is, the other way around. The personality and character of the man is promoted above all else. It is not about what you promote it is about what you produce. So when the gloves come off what is left?
Written by: Steven Kennedy