15 February 2016 ~ 1 Comment

55 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About T-Shirts


t shirts

Note: This was inspired by an infographic we posted in one of our older articles.

We take a lot of things for granted these days. The buildings around us, the technology we use, even the clothes on our backs. Do you know how much history there is in a simple T-Shirt?

You might be surprised.

Let’s talk about that. Today, we’re going to go over some of the most interesting, obscure, and downright bizarre facts about one of the world’s most common articles of clothing. How many of these facts did you know?

  • Cotton, the most common T-shirt material, has been grown by humans for over 7,000 years. The first evidence of cotton use was found in the city of Mehrgarh, one of the earliest South Asian farming settlements in the world.
  • China and India are currently the two largest producers of cotton in the world, with a total combined production of  production total of 61 million bales annually.  The United States is currently the largest exporter of raw cotton, with sales of $4.9 billion annually. The worldwide cotton market is estimated to total at $12 billion.  
  • Cotton is stronger wet than dry, and can absorb more than twenty times its own weight in water.
  • Textile printing has actually existed for far longer than the T-Shirt. The oldest method of textile printing, woodblock printing, dates to 3rd century China. It relied on a relief design carved into a block of wood, dipped into ink and pressed down onto fabric.
  • Over their history, T-shirts have been made from a variety of materials, including alligator leather, cotton, yarn, polyester, gold, and even human hair.
  • Every year, over 2 billion T-shirts are sold worldwide.
  • It’s believed that the T-shirt originated from a type of all-in-one underwear known as the “union suit,” patented in 1868 in New York. Many workers took to cutting these outfits in half to keep cool in hot weather.
  • Though we don’t know who invented the T-shirt as it appears today, tees were first marketed in 1904 by the Cooper Underwear company as “bachelor undershirts.” They were considered undergarments, and not something you could wear on their own.
  • T Shirts also weren’t considered particularly fashionable back then – they were chiefly worn for utility, such as acting as sweat absorbers for a college football team.
  • T-Shirts became a part of the United States Navy’s uniform in 1905, which required a buttonless, white cotton undershirt. It was also adopted into the United States Army a few years later, during World War 1.
  • The word “T-shirt” was first used in 1920 by author F. Scott Fitzgerald in his novel, This Side of Paradise.  It didn’t become popular until many years later – in the 1930s, T-Shirts were labeled “skivvies” and “jimshirts.”
  • T-Shirts were originally marketed as undershirts for bachelors who didn’t know how to sew or replace buttons.
  • Shirts back in the 1930s were much lighter than today’s shirts, at only 1.5 to 2 ounces (as opposed to the 5-8oz weight of the average shirt today). (Source)
  • The first promotional shirt was produced in 1939, for The Wizard of Oz.
  • The oldest printed shirt in the Smithsonian institute was part of New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey’s presidential campaign, and reads “Dew-It with Dewey.”
  • Plastisol was invented in 1959, and proved to be more durable and stretchable than the ink used in T-shirts up to that point. It allowed more variety and complexity in designs.
  • For a long time, T-Shirts were a male article of clothing, with a tight fit and wide neck designed to show off the male figure.
  • Marlon Brando first wore a T-shirt unadorned in his movie, A Street Car Named Desire. It generated a ton of controversy, and caused a nationwide spike in T-shirt sales. Brando is also credited with popularizing jeans with his role in The Wild One. James Dean is another celebrity credited with popularizing T-Shirts as more than undershirts.
  • Rumor has it that Clark Gable’s topless appearance in the movie It Happened One Night in 1934 caused a decline in T-Shirt sales. There is no evidence to suggest this rumor is true.
  • Tropix Togs was the first company to decorate T-shirts with pop culture icons and slogans in the early 1950s. This ended up popularizing custom T-Shirts, which are an essential part of pop culture and business branding to this day.
  • Rock and Roll bands further popularized T-shirts during the 60s, promoting their music through custom screen printed shirts.
  • In the late 60s Tie-Dye T-Shirts became a central element of the hippie movement. Somewhat ironically, this was done at the behest of Rit Dye advertising mogul Don Price.
  • Rit’s masterstroke was making hundreds of shirts and giving them away at Woodstock. Because of this, they became a part of the counterculture style – and Rit’s company made bank off rebellion against corporate America.
  • The 70s was the first time T-Shirts really entered into popular culture, necessitating new modes of mass production as they continued to grow in popularity during the 1980s. The 80s also marked the birth of the wrinkle-free T-Shirt, an incredible invention for slobs everywhere. (Source)
  • The 70s also marked the birth of the “I <3 New York” campaign, a T-Shirt branding campaign kicked off by the Commerce department to shift the city’s image from a dirty, decadent, crime-ridden hole to a bustling tourist destination. It worked – the shirt revitalized the industry and became one of the most-mimicked designs in history.
  • The Salvation Army receives several million T-shirt donations every year. It auctions them off by the pound and exports them to disadvantaged third-world countries.  
  • T-Shirt recycling keeps over five billion tons of textile waste out of landfills annually.
  • T-shirts are the primary product sold by websites like Shirtpunch, which give indie designers the ability to showcase their wares. What makes Shirtpunch and its ilk unique is that each design is only sold for a total of 24 hours, before being replaced by a new one.
  • The Guinness World Record for the most T-Shirts worn at any given time is 257, and was achieved by a fellow in Sri Lanka by the name of Sanath Bandara. The shirts together weighed over 200 pounds.  
  • The world’s most expensive T-shirt design costs a jaw-dropping $400,000. Although it’s made of organic cotton, it also has a set of 16 diamonds sewn into the fabric, which together amount to 9 carats. Not exactly the kind of shirt you’d wear to your brother-in-law’s barbeque, is it?
  • Datta Phuge, nicknamed “The Gold Man” (for obvious reasons) owns a shirt made of more than 3 kilograms of solid gold. It’s worth $250,000. He also owns five cars, and countless pieces of gold jewelry. Phuge employs a security guard to ensure that no one tries to nick the shirt from him.
  • The world’s largest T-shirt is approximately 306 feet long and 206 feet wide, and was unveiled in Navegantes, Santa Catarina, Brazil in October 2014.
  • There are 35,000 cotton farms in the United States. Together, they employ enough people to fill four football stadiums.
  • To make a full circle around the world, you’d need about 56 million medium-sized T-Shirts.
  • 62% of Americans claim to own ten or more shirts. That’s enough shirts to circle the globe 34 times if lined up next to one another.
  • Yarn is one of the most inefficient T-shirt materials: it takes six miles to make one. To contrast, it only takes one acre of cotton to make 1,200 shirts.
  • It takes 2700 liters of water to make a single T-Shirt. That’s enough water to allow one person to drink for 900 days.
  • The second most popular fabric for T-Shirts is polyester fiber. It creates a soft, comfortable, lightweight texture when woven together with cotton.
  • 91% of Americans have a favorite T-Shirt in their wardrobe.
  • The average T-Shirt goes on a fascinating global journey over the course of its production. Take Planet Money, whose shirts over their lifecycle go from the cotton fields of the US to spinning factories in Indonesia to garment factories in Bangladesh or Colombia.
  • In 1977, $8 million dollars worth of Farrah Fawcett T-Shirts were sold.
  • Coca Cola was the first brand to ever promote itself using T-Shirts.
  • TShirtOS, the world’s first programmable T-Shirt, has an LCD screen woven into the front. It can display everything from graphic designs to photos to status updates on social media. It’s currently still in the prototype stage, and not yet available for sale.
  • June 21 is International T-Shirt Day, a global celebration of what is arguably the world’s most iconic article of clothing. (Source)
  • The world record for the most T-Shirts folded in a single minute is 23, and was set by Graeme J. Cruden of Manchester in 2009.
  • The fastest anyone’s ever passed 10 shirts along a chain of 100 people is 15 minutes 0.69 seconds, set by Domestic and General at Epsom Downs Racecourse in 2014. How’s that for an obscure record?
  • At least once per week, 89% of T-Shirt wearing Americans put on a T-Shirt.
  • T-Shirts are more than just casual wear. They’re also produced by several world-renowned luxury brands, including Gucci, Chanel, D&G, Prada, Armani, Versace, Guess, Valentino, and Fendi.
  • A man by the name of Jason Sadler made himself a millionaire by simply wearing T-Shirts for a living. Brands pay him to wear their T-Shirts, and he wears a different shirt every day. His business venture has enjoyed so much success that he’s actually hired additional employees to wear shirts with him.
  • In 1984, the BBC banned the song “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood for being too sexual. Record label owner Paul Morley defied the BBC by putting the song’s words on a line of T-Shirts in capital letters. The “FRANKIE SAYS RELAX” tee was worn by everyone from Jennifer Anniston to Homer Simpson, and has actually outlived the band that it was originally based on.
  • The T-Shirt business is apparently extremely lucrative – independent designers and salespeople on Teespring regularly make more than six figures.
  • From 2009 to 2014, the T-Shirt industry grew more than 24.2%.  
  • There are many different printing processes for custom-designed T Shirts:
    • Screen printing involves the creation of a mesh screen which has ink pressed through it onto a blank shirt.
    • Digital printing effectively uses a giant version of an inkjet printer to dye the fabric directly.
    • Heat transfer irons a design from a special type of paper onto a shirt.
    • Airbrushing uses a small spray gun.
  • There are actually several different types of T-Shirt as well, and they vary in terms of sleeve length, embellishment, and neck shape. You might actually be surprised to learn that Tank Tops are considered a type of T-Shirt.
  • T-Shirts are also available in more than just your standard array of sizes – you can actually get custom-tailored tees made for you at most tailoring outlets. Believe it or not, this is what Jennifer Anniston does with her T-Shirts.  

T-Shirts have come a long way since they were first born as part of an undergarment. Today, they’re used for everything from marketing to political campaigns to business to personal statements. They’re the most common article in the world – and they really do go with anything.

Now that you’re done reading about T-Shirts, why not add a few more to your wardrobe? With our Design Studio Software, you can create a custom-printed T-Shirt that’s perfect for whatever you need, whether it’s personal branding or a business venture.  

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