Did you know in 1904 the T-Shirt was originally marketed at bachelors who couldn't sew or replace buttons.
In 1904, the Cooper Underwear Company ran a magazine ad announcing a new product for bachelors. In the 'before' photo, an embarrassed man he has lost all the buttons on his undershirt and has safety-pinned it together. In the 'after' photo, a gentleman sports a handlebar mustache smokes a cigar and wears a “bachelor undershirt” stretchy enough to be pulled over the head. “No safety pins — no buttons — no needle — no thread,” ran the slogan aimed at men with no wives and no sewing skills.
The U.S. Navy similarly saw the logic in this, and it was specified that sailors were to wear undershirts with no buttons under their uniforms; soon thousands of men became acquainted with the comfort of the pullover.
Though the Cooper Underwear Company popularised the crew-neck shirt, they did not invent the style. The shirts evolved out of the long johns that men wore in the 19th century when a number of garment makers experimented with methods that would allow the fabric to stretch over the head and then spring back into shape.
The pullover still looked like underwear to most people and wearing it in public was considered scandalous. But gradually, the crew-neck caught on. Soldiers and Marines would commonly remove their uniform jacket, wearing (and soiling) only their undershirt. Dockworkers, farmers, miners and blue-collar workers of various industries began wearing the t-shirt as a bottom layer of clothing, as it was easily fitted, easily cleaned, suitable for hot weather and inexpensive. The garment became the shirt of choice by mothers for their sons as outerwear for chores and play.
In 1920, the garment was reborn under the name, the "T-Shirt", with author F. Scott Fitzgerald the first to use the word “T-shirt” in print. By the 1940s, following WWII, it was common to see veterans wearing their uniform trousers with their T-Shirts as casual clothing, and they soon become ubiquitous in high schools. In the 1950s, following Marlon Brando iconically wearing a T-Shirt in A Streetcar Named Desire, T-Shirts skyrocketed to popularity, finally achieving status as fashionable, stand-alone outerwear.
Fast fashion has ushered us into a new mindset, where we've become detached from function and allured by trends, quantity and over-consumption. Reflecting on the humble t-shirt's origins as a functional under-shirt, it’s a worthwhile thinking-point regarding practicality, versatility and durability of our wardrobe purchases.