What do the largest multinational corporations and the most hipster indie band of all time have in common? They both use T-shirts to promote themselves. Even though virtually all Americans have a T-shirt in their wardrobe, few people realize this simple piece of clothing has a unique All-American origin. In fact, the humble T-shirt might just be the most American garment of all time, and a peek into this item’s past offers clues to its enduring popularity.
The U.S. Navy first introduced the T-shirt to the American wardrobe. T-shirts were issued to Navy sailors as undergarments sometime after the Spanish-American war. By 1920, servicemen had introduced these useful shirts to the public at large. During the Great Depression, workers relied on T-shirts when they needed to cover their torso without wearing heavy fabrics. And in the 1950s, Marlon Brando made the plain, white T-shirt iconic when he donned the garment for his role in A Streetcar Named Desire. From its humble origins, T-shirts are now a $2 billion market.
Now, 95% of Americans wear T-shirts, and 89% of them say they wear a T-shirt at least once a week. And if you needed more proof just how thoroughly attached to their T-shirts Americans are, then here’s a statistic that probably includes you: nine out of 10 Americans say they own at least one faded T-shirt they won’t get rid of because of its sentimental value. Sound familiar?
Although Brando might have helped popularize the plain white T, since the 1980s both Brits and Americans have tended to favor shirts with slogans, logos, and custom designs. Custom t shirt screen printing has even become a subculture of its own, with personalized apparel lovers turning a simple shirt into a must-have fashion accessory.
Most Americans can find more than one piece of personalized apparel in their closet or dresser. Everyone from Fortune 500 corporations to bachelorette parties design personalized apparel to mark special occasions or promote team bonding. Sometimes those items of custom printed apparel become special souvenirs, while sometimes those custom company shirts from the annual retreat get relegated to gym clothes status. In either case, they end up in the dresser for years to come.
So if you’re trying to promote your brand, or just want to instill some team spirit, invest in personalized apparel like custom made sweatshirts, personalized hats, or screen printed shirts. It might not be the key to your team’s hearts, but it is the key to their closet.