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HOW T-SHIRTS BECAME FASHIONABLE
Before the 1950s T-Shirts were considered only for use as an undershirt. This loose fitting, typically cotton, fabric would help collect sweat and keep your nicer, outer layer, dry and presentable. Two things changed the way society saw T-Shirts: the end of World War II and the talented acting of Marlon Brando.
During and shortly after World War II many veterans were coming home disheveled and confused. Left with post-dramatic stress disorder or disability, it became common to see veterans dressed similarly to how they casually dressed while still in the army. This outfit typically consisted of their uniform trousers and their white t-shirts. At the time, this type of dress wasn’t socially accepted but allowed because no one was going to tell a veteran how to dress.
It wasn’t until the 1951 film adaptation of Tennesee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize winning stage play, A Streetcar Named Desire premiered that people began to see the T-Shirt in a different light. If you don’t the story, a fading Southern Belle who has run out of luck moves in with her sister Stella in the French Quarters of New Orleans. Stella fears the woman’s arrival may be less desirable to her husband Stanely (played by Marlon Brando). Stanely is a brutish, strong headed male with primal instincts and hard hitting force. The story follows the three characters through conflicts and delusions, fighting and love.
Most importantly to us, though, it changed the way people viewed the T-Shirt. Marlon Brando’s portrayal of a lower class, brute, yet handsome man was commonly seen wearing sweaty T-shirts and not much else. As Brando was a bigger actor of the time, the T-Shirt was finally seen as a fashionable, stand-alone, outer garment. As society tends to do when an impressionable celebrity makes a new fashion statement, it is imitated and repeated to mirror the mystique and coolness of that person. Soon after the movie’s premiere, men all around America were proudly wearing T-shirts and the rest is history.