Has there ever been a more versatile garment than the humble tshirt? Tees as fashion, as politics, advertising, protest, communication and humour. Tshirts as conversation!Globe Trotsky
Paying homage to the simple tshirt
A visit to the London Fashion and Textile Museum in the summer of 2018 for a tshirt exhibition was the inspiration for this website, this journey and indeed the Globe Trotsky brand.
“Tshirt: Cult, Culture and Subversion” was the event. I’ve always been piqued by offbeat passions. Always wanting to know more; unearth the full story. I was intrigued enough to buy a book on the history of the tshirt from the museum shop.
This backstreet venue in Bermondsey, south London is just a few miles away from home. It was a gorgeous summer’s day and a mere 15-minute ride across Burgess Park. I even caught site of famous designer, Zandra Rhodes, on the way in. I recall it was the final weekend of the exhibition. I had mainly been interested in a free ticket to do something on a Saturday afternoon. But it sowed a seed.
I leafed through the book 1000 tshirts that make a Statement by Raphaelle Orsini many times before the idea of this blog started to crystalise. It must have been on my mind when I followed it up in September 2018 with a workshop on screen printing at the London Screen Printing Club.
My decision to retire early had not yet happened. But when that did come to me, it was all about a desire to travel and see the world.
In January 2019, I attended the Adventure Show at Olympia. Now, it should be pointed out, that the screen-printing course and the Adventure Show expert talks are the only recent appointments that would ever get me out bed early on a weekend in the past decade.
Suddenly all the ideas aligned. A travel website based around tshirts. While the name came later, the Globe Trotsky brand was born.
So here I am, trying to put it all together coherently on this site. “Tell me what you are wearing and I’ll tell you what you are” predicts Raphaelle Orsini in his book I mentioned.
You are what you wear, so the old adage goes. Funny enough, I grew up in a world before brands. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw my dad in a tshirt. Not that any of this matters. I held a cultural disdain for fashion brands. No one is buys me that easily. I wasn’t going to be a commodity for some global brand, except my football team. That was only real badge of allegiance.
Politically and economically, we live in a world of globalised conformity that erases humanity and identity. Everyone wants a Gucci bag or Levi denims. Despite two billion tshirts being sold every year, perversely, the tshirt reaffirms identity and individuality.
Has there ever been a more versatile garment than the humble tshirt? Tees as fashion, as politics, advertising, protest, communication and humour. Tshirts as conversation!
And yet for something so utilitarian, so unisex, so ubiquitous, it can also be personal, political and provocative.
As you will read in the timeline, it has been embraced by music lovers, activists and campaigners, political parties and advertisers. A tshirt can say so much about our connection with the world and fashion; our musical and social tastes. We all own and create a little bit of its history.
Tshirt: The Banner of all assertions
From an item of underwear, the tshirt has become a standard wardrobe item. Initially common among members of the military below the uniform, the tshirt burst onto the scene popularised by screen heartthrobs James Dean and Marlon Brandon.
Delving into its commercialisation since World War 2, it has been popularised on screen, by music, through politics and in advertising.
Orsini called the connection between music and tshirts “an eternal love story”. Musicians, bands albums and songs have all been immortalised on tshirts, from punk to metal through pop rock and hip hop. Music festivals are also a source of invention and a huge retail market.
Campaigning – Cool tshirts for a noble cause
Politics and activism have provided a rich source of content for tshirts. Interestingly the iconic image of the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara was never copyrighted as the Communist regime believed it as a bourgeois concept. Che had Irish roots and the family name of Lynch. He probably has a relation Shane Guevara running around somewhere around Galway where his family tree can be traced back to. Indeed, his father said of his restless, revolutionary poet: “Through his veins runs blood of Irish rebels.”
The Obama Hope image was just one of many political images to adorn the tshirt tracing a history back to Dewey’s presidential campaign of 1948.
Advertisers were drawn to it as a cheap, easy, visible promotional tool. The tshirt is probably responsible for the death of the sandwich board!
Milton Blazer, the graphic designer, who created the “I love NY” slogan, concurs that the tshirt is a powerful, personal tool of protest. He gave the rights away for nothing for the slogan which was meant to be a short-term campaign but is now copied in cities across the globe.
On a personal level, I must mention the sports shirt as one of the most famous variations of the tshirt. Football strips are worn like a second skin a totemic object. And even the numbers have become synonymous with legendary players. 10 for Pele, 14 for Cruyff and 7 for Beckham and Cantona.
From small scandal or major polemics, from logos to souvenirs from ironic parodies to viral memes, the tshirt is cemented as an integral part of our modern civilisation and part of the global cultural process.
The term “T-shirt” is taken from its shape obviously. I’ve taken a decision on this site not to hyphen the word. It’s a practical decision, lower case and no hyphen means less time typing. As an editor, I feel empowered to do this. In Victorian times the word to-day was hyphenated; more recently e-mail. Common usage dictates convention. Speech influences grammar, so tshirt it is for me.
Bootleg, retro, unisex, cheap, universal, cheap, political, vintage. We are all part of the tshirt conversation; all part of the tribe.
Images: Galleries of the music, film, politics, advertising.
Tees History and timeline
AD 500 The T-shaped garment is one of the earliest and most universal fashioned items of clothing and examples of decorated T-shaped tunics exist from as early as the fifth century AD.
In its first recognisable form, screen printing has been documented as far back as the Song Dynasty of China.
1907 Englishmen Samuel Simon patents the screen-printing technique paving the way for modern tshirt design.
1910 Photoactive chemicals to create screens for printing are developed.
1913 The US Navy uniform regulation kit includes a ‘lightweight short sleeve white cotton undervest’. Although in England amateur boxers and rowers had worn a knitted undershirt known as the Zephyr in the 1880s.
1920 In order to prevent theft, the University of South California introduces athletic uniform t-shirts in bold flocked print, proclaiming ‘Property of USC’ making them all the more desirable as personal (and subversive) garments.
1935 US underwear manufacturer Hanes starts producing tshirts but they are a commercial failure.
1938 American retailer Sears markets the tshirt with the slogan ‘You don’t need to be a soldier to have your own personal tshirt’.
1939 Although none seem to have survived, it is believed that the first-ever promotional tshirt was created for the Wizard of Oz, initiating the use of the tshirt as an advertising tool. The film also features citizens of the Emerald City wearing printed tshirts that say ‘Oz’.
1942 The US Navy issues the regulation T-type undershirt, which is featured on the cover of Life magazine.
1948 The first use of the tshirt as a political campaign tool during New York Governor Thomas E Dewey’s presidential campaign. Although he went on to lose the election, the ‘Dew-it with DEWEY” slogan and the tshirt set the precedent for the future of electioneering.
1951 Marlon Brando brings the classic white tshirt into the sexual imagination in the film Streetcar Named Desire.
1955 Disneyland opens, a place of magic wonder and souvenir tshirts, which were widely produced and sold due to the first licensing agreement between Disney and Tropix Togs.
1956 James Dean is catapulted to stardom and becomes a fully-fledged teen heart-throb as the rebellious Jim Stark in the film Rebel Without a Cause while wearing the classic white tshirt.
1959 A leap forward in technology sees the invention of an ink called ‘plastisol’: stretchy and durable, it is perfect for printed tshirts.
1960 The invention of the multicolour rotary screen-printing machine makes printing designs on tshirts much faster and less costly.
1963 The plastisol transfer is developed allowing tshirt designs to be made on demand and in a dazzling array of sparkling and photographic images.
1968 UK athletes in the Olympic Games are issued with an official tshirt as part of their kit.
1969 The first UK government anti-smoking campaign to be produced by an advertising agency sees hip youngsters wearing ‘We Don’t Smoke’ tshirts.
1970 Designers John and Molly Dove develop inks that can print on black fabric five years before they become widely commercially available.
1971 The OZ obscenity trial sees tshirts used as a means to raise awareness and funds in support of freedom of speech in the UK.
1971 Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren set up their shop, Let it Rock, at 430 Kings Road and soon begin designing and selling retro rock memorabilia and slogan tshirts.
1974 In London, the Hard Rock Café launches its tshirts. Designed originally as a symbol of sponsorship of a local football team, the tshirts were a hit with customers and have evolved from a local to global souvenir.
1977 Milton Glaser designs the ‘I Love NY’ tshirt (in a taxi) as part of a government-sponsored marketing campaign for New York State. Inspired by pop art, it goes on to be one the most successful and recognisable designs of the 20th century.
1982 Although there is a ban on the production of royal wedding souvenirs that bear the image or insignia of the royal family, bootleg vendors produce and sell tshirts that reverently or ironically celebrate the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.
1984 Katherine Hamnett greets the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at a London Fashion Week even wearing her ‘58% don’t want Pershing’ tshirt referring to public opposition to the relocation of the US missiles.
1994 Anti-fur PETA launches and anti-fur tshirt featuring models, Emma Sjoberg, Tatjana Patitz, Heather Stewart-Whyte, Fabienne Terwinghe and Naomi Campbell posing naked for the cause.
2000 By the early 2000s the rise of fast fashion sees more than two billion tshirts sold each year.
2010 Textile technology allows for innovations that bring the tshirt back to utilitarian concerns, such as the world’s first bullet-proof tshirt and one that can block up to 99% of UV rays.
Globe Trotsky is a retirement travel and photogaphy blog for the independent, budget traveller. A sideways look at travel in a tshirt.
Visit www.globetrotsky.com to join the travel and tshirt tribe.