Vintage T-Shirts … Always Classic, Always New
FASHION TREND REPORT EXCLUSIVELY FOR RANDOLPH STREET MARKET BY NENA IVON, nenasnotes
Photo taken by me at the Randolph Street Market says it all… when I started thinking of doing this post I really didn’t realize how many twists and turns this ordinary undergarment would take over the years and end up becoming a part of virtually everyone’s wardrobe as well as collectibles. Let’s look at how they started and how they have evolved through the decades.
The earliest T-shirt dates back to sometime between the 1898 Spanish–American War, it evolved from the longjohn and 1913, when the U.S. Navy began issuing them as undergarments for their ease of putting them on. Supposedly the first mention of the “T-shirt” was in the 1920’s in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. It is so named for its shape.
“Critical to this early history is the moment the U. S. Navy took on a plain white, crew-necked, button-less, “T” shaped, cotton-knit undershirt as its own, with a its broad neck-hole to allow it to be pulled down quickly over the head. It took a few more years and more than one world war, but the T-shirt, as we know and love it, was here to stay from the 1920s onwards.”
Supposedly the first “logo” t-shirt appeared on the cover of LIFE magazine…
It became a statement of rebellion on teens in the 1950’s when it became common place and appeared almost as a character of its own on Marlon Brando in Street Car Named Desire and James Dean in In Rebel Without A Cause.
Think of Grease or Happy Days, again, in my opinion the t-shirt was a major character helping to define the decade.
Going from what today looks very Mainstream, the plain white t-shirt, to the protests of the Vietnam War when Hippies began wearing clothing with vibrant colors and psychedelic designs.
On the Fall 2019 catwalk… from the Collina Strama Collection (tie dye a fashion trend for 2019… everything old is new again
‘70’s England and Punks and the designer who helped create their anti-establishment image… Vivianne Westwood and Seditionaries. If you can find original ones…snap them up, highly collectible… does Randolph Street Market come to mind, it should!
“Among the most collectible God Save the Queen T shirts are those produced by designer Vivienne Westwood and her then boyfriend Malcolm McLaren, the manager of the Sex Pistols punk group, in the late 1970s.”
The T shirts were produced following the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen single reached number 2 in the UK in the Queen’s silver jubilee year of 1977.
They featured the Queen with a safety pin through her lip and used the same Cecil Beaton photo of Her Majesty to that employed by Jamie Reid for the cover artwork of the Sex Pistols.
The T shirts were sold at their Seditionaries shop in Chelsea, London.
Since Westwood and McLaren were designing for the Punk scene you had a vast variety of extreme art (I won’t feature the most controversial here), I will say many of the t-shirts were quite shocking. When I attended the Vivianne Westwood exhibition at the V&A Museum in London several years ago the first room you entered was filled with glass cases, (think of the butterfly exhibits at The Field Museum for an example of the type of cases), each filled with these t-shirts. I was standing next to a lady probably my age, she was English…I said to her “Well these were quite shocking in their day.” She replied “My Dear, they still are!)
The actual chicken bone piece.
The deconstructed British flag piece…
The t-shirt has become a walking billboard for marketing anything from products to not for profit causes such as Breast Cancer initiatives.
For an example, last year Saks Fifth Avenue celebrated the 20th Anniversary of Key To The Cure (KTTC), its annual charitable initiative to fight cancer, the t-shirt featured actress, comedian and producer Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the official 2018 KTTC Ambassador and Designer Wes Gordon of Carolina Herrera designed the exclusive, limited edition t-shirt. Past KTTC ambassadors and designer collaborations have included Jennifer Lopez and Missoni, Halle Berry and Christian Louboutin, Jennifer Aniston and Peter Dundas, Gwyneth Paltrow and Karl Lagerfeld, and Heidi Klum and Michael Kors, among others.
My collection of logo t-shirts now resides in the Columbia College Chicago’s Fashion Studies. I feel very strongly that the t-shirt is very much a part of fashion history and so do major institutions such as Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary (MCA) who recently featured a large installation of fascinating t-shirts literary taken off the back of the wearers…
Both photos taken by me.
The guru of Americana fashion… Ralph Lauren…
Let’s look at some ways to style your t-shirt today, no longer just underwear but as a fashion statement and yes, everything old is new again, the joy of vintage!!!
Lagerfeld for Chanel Cruise 2017 (shown in Havana, Cuba)
And of, course, Sharon Stone in her Gap t-shirt for the Academy Awards…very controversial at the time…
And finally, how a Millennial wears the look, one of my monthly nenasnotes The Fashion Book Club attendees, Colleen McClintic….doing it perfectly! My photo.
I’m sure the markers of the original t-shirts would be in awe of how the simple piece of cotton jersey underwear has evolved, I know I am.
by Nena Ivon
All photos from Pinterest photo credits unknown.