The T-Shirt Turns 100: 7 Tee Styles That Have Hit Icon Status

Everybody's favorite I-just-threw-this-on garment may be getting old, but the look is nowhere near passé. Whether you prefer a classic white tee, or like your shirts ripped, shredded, and controversially branded, there's a t-shirt out there with your name on it. Literally.

The t-Shirt Is Officially a Centenarian Now

Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Everybody's favorite I-just-threw-this-on garment may be getting old, but the look is nowhere near passé. Whether you prefer a classic white tee, or like your shirts ripped, shredded, and controversially branded, there's a t-shirt out there with your name on it. Literally.

The Iconic White Tee

Today, they're thought of as fairly unisex, but t-shirts had a testosterone-fueled beginning. They were standard-issue gear in the U.S. Navy circa 1913, and were intended to be worn beneath uniforms. In 1951's A Streetcar Named Desire, when Marlon Brando appeared onscreen in a tight t-shirt that emphasized both his blue-collar background and his animal magnetism, sales skyrocketed.

Logos and Slogans

As soon as ancient man discovered he could print pictures on a plain white t-shirt, civilization was never the same. The first recorded text on a t-shirt is a 1948 campaign slogan from Thomas E. Dewey, the governor of NYC at the time, who raced (and lost) against Truman with "Dew-it-with-Dewey." And once stretchable ink was invented, screen printing really took off: In brief, first came Mickey Mouse on a t-shirt, then came the iconic Rolling Stones lip-and-tongue logo on a thousand high school boy chests, then came Threadless. Image: Todd on flickr

Hippie Style

When the hippies arrived, they wanted tie-dye, and what's cheaper to tie-dye than a plain white t-shirt? Plus, tees have always been the ideal blank canvas for speaking your mind, and artist Warren Dayton decided to do just that in 1967, by designing controversial t-shirts that featured images of Cesár Chavez, polluted lungs, Life magazine, and other political statements. Image: Jere Keys on flickr

Punk

As soon as punk burst onto the scene, the t-shirt got trashed. Rocker Richard Hell is often credited for inventing (or should we say wrecking?) the ripped, safety-pinned t-shirt. Other popular punk looks included offensive images, slogans like "only anarchists are pretty", and shirts that were just plain dirty. This photo of Sid Vicious' infamous swastika tee is What Not to Wear on so many levels, but that's so punk.

Irony

Somewhere between hippies and punk, the t-shirt became the ideal canvas for showing off your ironic sense of humor, and the trend shows no signs of stopping. Perhaps the most relevant example is the "Three Wolf Moon" t-shirt, a corny screen print of three wolves — wait for it — howling at the moon. It became a meme-like sensation after someone wrote a hilarious review of the shirt on Amazon. Today, wearing an ugly t-shirt shows everyone that you're hip and hilarious.

Celebrity Billboards

Charley Gallay/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

If you're famous, you can write a press release to tell the world how you're feeling — or you can put it on a t-shirt. Celebrities have been passive-aggressively showing us their innermost secrets via t-shirts for years, from the whole Team Jennifer/Team Angie trend to Britney Spears' now-ironic "I am the American Dream" tee back in 2004.

Haute Couture

The t-shirt may have working class roots, but that hasn't stopped designers from slapping ridiculous price tags on them from time to time (the Balmain shirt pictured is $1625 — seems reasonable). Whether we're feeling a simple white tee, or wearing our t-shirts with studded shoulder epaulets, metallic Burberry stripes, Valentino camouflage, and hipster Christopher Kane graphics like outer space and paint splotches, the t-shirt has an undeniable place in our cultural history — and deserves at least a full drawer in every dresser.