T-shirt fashions include styles for men and women, and for all age groups, including baby, youth, and adult sizes.
Most research mentions the possibility that the idea of the T-shirt came to the United States during World War II when US soldiers noticed the light cotton undershirts European soldiers were using while the US soldiers were sweating in their wool uniforms. Since they were much more comfortable they quickly became popular among the Americans, and because of their design they got the name T-shirt. Other experts credit the U.S. Navy's "light undershirt" from 1913, called a "crew neck". The Los Angeles Times claimed in 2006 that the Navy shirt as described in 1913's regulations state that the "light undershirt" was different from what is commonly worn today, with the Navy's version boasting an "elastic collarette on the neck opening" and other odd features.
On these grounds, there are claims that Howard Jones asked the underwear company "Jockey" in 1932 to develop a sweat absorbing shirt for the USC Trojans football team, which they propose was the "modern T-Shirt".
The origin of the name is uncertain: it may refer to the shape of the shirt as a "T", or it may derive from the use by the army as a "training shirt". The shape-based theory is supported by the existence of an A-shirt in the 1930s, which was the typical undershirt later referred to as a tank top. It is also a possibility that the name "tee" comes from amputee, a reference to the shortened length of the arms.
During World War II the T-shirt had become standard issue underwear in the U.S. Army and the Navy. Although the T-shirt was formally underwear, soldiers often used it without a shirt covering it while doing heavy labor or while stationed in locations with a hot climate, just like their former underwear. As a result, the public was frequently exposed to pictures of members of the armed forces wearing pants and a T-shirt. This became gradually more acceptable, as the cover of the July 13, 1942 issue of Life magazine shows, which features a picture of a soldier wearing a T-shirt with the text "Air Corps Gunnery School".
After WWII the T-shirt started appearing without a shirt covering it in civilian life. According to the New York Times, the 1948 presidential campaign of New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey produced a "Dew It for Dewey" T-shirt, which was followed in 1952 by "I Like Ike" T-shirts in support of Dwight D. Eisenhower. John Wayne, Marlon Brando and James Dean all wore them on national TV. At first the public was shocked, but by 1955 it had become acceptable.
A T-shirt typically extends to the waist. Variants of the T-shirt, like the tank top, A-shirt (with the nickname "wife beater"), muscle shirt, scoop neck, and the V-neck have been developed. Hip hop fashion calls for "oversized" T-shirts which may extend down to the knees. A more recent trend in women's clothing involves tight-fitting "cropped" T-shirts that are short enough to reveal the midriff. Another popular trend is wearing a "long-sleeved T-shirt", then putting a short sleeved T-shirt of a different color over the long sleeved shirt. This is known as "layering".
In the early 1950s several companies based in Miami, Florida, started to decorate T-shirts with different resort names and various characters. The first company was Tropix Togs, under founder Sam Kantor, in Miami. They were the original licensee for Walt Disney characters that included Mickey Mouse and Davy Crockett. Later other companies expanded into the T-shirt printing business that included Sherry Manufacturing Company also based in Miami. Sherry started in 1948 by its owner and founder Quinton Sandler as a screen print scarf business and evolved into one of the largest screen printed resort and licensed apparel companies in the United States.
In 1959, plastisol, a more durable and stretchable ink, was invented, allowing much more variety in T-shirt designs.
In the 1960s, the ringer T-shirt appeared and became a staple fashion for youth and rock-n-rollers. The decade also saw the emergence of tie-dyeing and screen-printing on the basic T-shirt. In the late 1960s Richard Ellman, Robert Tree, Bill Kelly, and Stanley Mouse set up the Monster Company in Mill Valley, California, to produce fine art designs espressly for T-shirts. Monster T-shirts often feature emblems and motifs associated with the Grateful Dead and marijuana culture.
The most common form of commercial T-shirt decoration is screen-printing. In screen-printing, a design is separated into individual colors. Plastisol or water based inks are applied to the shirt through mesh screens which limits the areas where ink is deposited. In most commercial T-shirt printing, the specific colors in the design are used. To achieve a wider color spectrum with a limited number of colors, process printing (using only cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink) or simulated process (using only white, black, red, green, blue, and gold ink) is effective. Process printing is best suited for light colored shirts. Simulated process is best suited for dark colored shirts. Very few companies continue to use water-based ink's on their shirts. The majority of other companies that create shirts prefer to use plastisol due to the ability to print on varying colors without the need for color adjustment at the art level.
Specialty inks trend in and out of fashion and include; shimmer, puff, discharge and chino based inks. A metallic foil can be heat pressed and stamped onto any plastisol ink. When combined with shimmer ink, metallics give a mirror like effect wherever the previously screened plastisol ink was applied. Specialty inks are more expensive to purchase as well as screen and tend to appear on garments in boutiques.
Other methods of decoration used on T-shirts include airbrush, applique, embroidery, impressing or embossing and the ironing on of either flock lettering, heat transfers, or dye-sublimation transfers. Laser printers are capable of printing on plain paper using a special toner containing sublimation dyes which can then be permanently heat-transferred to T-shirts.
In the 1980s, thermochromatic dyes were used to produce T-shirts that changed colour when subjected to heat. This brand of T-shirt, Global Hypercolour, was a common sight on the streets of the UK for a few years, but has since mostly disappeared. These were very popular in the United States as well in the late 80's among teens. A downside of color-change garments is that the dyes can easily be damaged, especially by washing in warm water, or dye other clothes during washing.
At the turn of the century, designing custom T-shirts online became more popular. Popular websites began to use digital printing (such as Direct to Garment or DTG printing) to allow customers to design their own T-shirts online with no minimum orders.
Throughout the 1980s and ever since in Japan, T-shirts have flourished as a personal expression.
Since the late 1980s and especially the 1990s, T-shirts with prominent designer-name logos have become popular, especially with teenagers and young adults. These garments allow consumers to flaunt their taste for designer brands in an inexpensive way, in addition to being decorative. Examples of designer T-shirt branding include Calvin Klein, FUBU, Ralph Lauren and The Gap. These examples also include representations of rock bands, among other obscure pop-culture references.
Screen printed T-shirts have been a standard form of product advertising for major consumer products, such as Coca-cola and Mickey Mouse, since the 1970s. However, since the 1990s, it has become common practice for companies of all sizes to produce T-shirts with their corporate logos or messages as part of their overall advertising campaigns.
The early 2000s saw the renewed popularity of T-shirts with slogans and designs with a strong inclination to the humorous and/or . The trend has only increased later in this decade; embraced by celebrities, such as Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, and reflected back on them, too ('Team Aniston').
The political and social statements that T-shirts often display have become, since the 2000s, one of the reasons that they have so deeply permeated different levels of culture and society. The statements also may be found to be offensive, shocking or pornographic to some. Many different organizations have caught on to the statement-making trend, including chain and independent stores, websites, and schools.
A popular phrase on the front of T-shirts demonstrating T-shirts' popularity among tourists is the humorous phrase "I did _____ and all I got was this lousy T-shirt." Examples include "I went to Las Vegas and all I got was this lousy T-shirt." and "My parents went to San Francisco and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."
T-shirt exchange is an activity where people trade their T-shirts they are wearing. Some designs specifically write on the shirt "trade with me".