The t-shirt has evolved significantly since its roots. But for all the iterations, the garment’s classic, made-in-the-military aesthetic will never go out of style.
Originally issued by the U.S. Navy as a standard-issue undergarment in 1913 (and shortly thereafter adopted by the Army), the t-shirt quickly gained popularity with servicemen during their time off. In the ‘20s and ‘30s, the t-shirt gained popularity with blue collar workers across the states, who began to enjoy the practicality of the lightweight and short-sleeved cotton garment with increasing regularity.
And then, on July 13th, 1942, the Air Corps Gunnery School t-shirt (credited as one of the earliest printed tees) appeared on the cover of LIFE magazine. The badassery of the tee was born. And if that wasn’t enough, sex-symbol and man’s man Marlon Brando donned a similarly snug tee in the film A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951, solidifying the garment’s popularity to the masses.
Whether worn extra snug by rockstars and greasers of the ‘50s, boldly emblazoned with political agendas by hippies of the early ‘70s, or blindingly white and crisp with fold lines by early 2000s rappers, the t-shirt has seen innumerable iterations. Some good. Some not so good. But it all started with a military-issued undershirt.
And that’s probably why the classic crewneck has remained so timeless. We hit up our local military surplus store to find the perfect, military-style tee, and Rothco provided the answer. Originating in 1953 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Rothco has been selling used clothes and World War II army surplus products since day one. Having been in business for over half a decade, these guys know a thing or two about the roots of military surplus. As of 2016, they now supply everything from M-65 field jackets to canvas bags to — of course — perfectly cut, classic crewneck tees.
While there may be occasions for scoop-necks, scalloped hemlines, and other creative executions of this 100-year-old garment, Father Time has made it clear that the earliest form of the tee was pretty damn close to perfect. If it was good enough for your grandfather while sweating it out aboard a B-17, it’s good enough for you.