What's in a Tee?

Andrew Clarke

What's in a Tee?

What's their origin? Why do we wear them? Who made them iconic? And what does yours 'say'?

Every icon has a story.

And the practical, humble and now ubiquitous and unisex T-shirt is no exception. And it offers an impactful, cultural symbolism with the power to make a statement. 

Purists might argue that it all began in the Middle Ages, as an undergarment proving a hygienic layer between clothes and the skin. Vogue highlights the origin of the name as "T-shaped shirts made of woven linen or cotton", originally for men with long tails tucked between the legs and also adopted by women to replace corsets. 

The modern T-shirt, however, began its journey in the late 19th century in the USA. Hot US labourers would cut their overalls (jumpsuits) in half to cool off in the warmer months.

Commercialisation began after its 'invention' in the Spanish-American war when the US Navy started issuing them as standard undergarments, also adopted by the British Navy under their woollen uniforms and then as outerwear when working on deck, a practice that was adopted by working class men. In the early 20th century, T-shirt brands such as Fruit of the Loom accelerated their adoption as a wardrobe staple. By the 1930s it was standard issue for sportsmen, the US retailer, Sears, Roebuck and Co. advertised with 'It's an undershirt, it's an outershirt' and during WW2 it was standard military issue. 'You don't need to be a soldier to have your own personal T-shirt', Sears proclaimed. 

It was some years though before the 'working tee' took off and became an out of work wardrobe item in the 1950s. When Hollywood's rising stars began wearing them to signal a less uniform, more rebellious character it entered the mainstream. Actors such as Marlon Brando in 'The Wild One' and James Dean in 'Rebel without a Cause' gave T-shirts sex appeal and catapulted them to their iconic status which meant the T-shirt had a place in the wardrobe outside of work. 

In the 1960s and 70s the T-shirt became truly unisex with actresses such as Jacqueline Bisset wearing one wet in The Deep. Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsborough of Anglo-French fame, posed for photos whilst wearing them on holiday. Printing, technology and manufacturing advances provided further impetus. And given it's modern-day adoption by actors and actresses, fashion brands (Christian Dior, Calvin Klein, Gucci and Ralph Lauren), artists and film producers, advertising Execs. and creatives, writers and intellectuals, it became the 'Mini of fashion'. As a classless fashion staple worn by workers and wealthy alike with designer orientation it provided an opportunity for people to stand out in a sea of sameness with individuality, personalisation and creativity. A modern-day form of short-hand, simple and impactful expression. A one-person advertising hoarding - all on the humble T-shirt. 

Katherine Hamnett described a T-shirt as "wearing a slogan as a way of people aligning themselves to a cause. They're tribal. Wearing one is like branding yourself". 

Dennis Nothdruft, curator at London's Fashion and Textile Museum, described the T-shirt as:
"a really basic way of telling the world who and what you are.”

We love our beach was set up to help beach-loving people to stand out in a sea of sameness with a sense of fun. Using witty, wise and wonderful words on amusing beach and marine designs we seek to make people smile and enjoy the positive, well-being benefits of the beach. Making memories on the beach with the ones we love is something that stays with us forever. And helps develop creativity, balance and resilience. Plus relaxation, reflection and rejuvenation for all. As someone once said, "Sand in your toes helps while away the woes".

Seas the day we say!

Our GOTS certified Organic Cotton T-shirt (and Hoody) range appeals to active adults and children with a zest for life and a desire to make people smile in a world of choice, change and challenge.

We offer 10% OFF your first order when you sign up to Happy Tides, FREE delivery on orders of £50 or more and you get £5 OFF your next clothing purchase when, after life use, it's returned for recycling. Like the tide we believe in returning. It's called circular fashion and helps reduce landfill waste. So we invite you to become a part of the beach loving, sustainable community. And we give 10% of profits to beach and marine conservation. Well, we can't enjoy ourselves on the beach if it isn't clean and safe, can we? We deliver items in plastic-free packaging and all of our products are either recycled, recyclable or made from sustainable materials, helping to reduce plastic and waste in water and landfill. 

What does your T-shirt say about you? Do you keep them from the past, as it's a part of your identity? Do you collect them? Do you repurpose, return or recycle them?

Let us know by emailing us a photo of your favourite T-shirt with a short (maximum) 250-word story about it to wave@weloveourbeach.com for a chance to WIN 4 We love our beach T-shirts for you, family and friends.

Terms and conditions of entry: 

Ends September 30th 2023. Independent judges meet in October and winners will be announced by the end of October 2023. Judges decision is final. Entry is subject to We love our beach's use of the photo and article in post competition marketing communications. By entering you grant such permission. 

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Onto the rules! Says Britannia. 

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