A Soft, Stretchy Centennial: The T-Shirt Turns 100

Southern California's go-to top marks a major milestone.

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    The t-shirt marks its 100th in 2013. Perhaps you have one or two or ten you can don to celebrate the occasion?

    What would Southern California style be without the t-shirt?

    It's hard to picture. There've probably been a million or two t-shirts sold bearing palm trees, a sun, or the beach, and hundreds and hundreds of kiosks and shops from Hollywood Boulevard to Venice Beach to Dodger Stadium depend upon a certain short-sleeved, comfy-wear icon.

    The tee fits the casual image we have of ourselves, and the fact that it is a great match for our balmy, not-too-hot-and-not-too-cold clime makes it the Goldilocks of everyday clothing. A happy medium indeed.

    Thus the idea that it is only celebrating its centennial in 2013 is a bit of shocker. Of course, we know this is probably true; look at any photo prior to 1913 and you're bound to see people strutting about early LA and our beach boardwalks in full-on formal wear. (Seriously, they must have been roasting in the summer.)

    The Navy introduced t-shirts for sailors a hundred years ago -- yep, they were undershirts at one time -- though it was still a few decades before Marlon Brando began to rock that underwear as outerwear (while yelling, with emotion, "Stella!") Other comfort-seeking counterculturists soon followed, and by the 1970s -- and even '60s -- stretchy short sleeves and smiley-faced tee fronts were the emerging norm.

    Los Angeles has always been at the forefront of the underwear-as-outerwear movement. A number of bespoke and vintage tee specialty shops were born in Southern California -- hello Sunday Print Co. and Junk Food Clothing Co. -- assuring our place in the lofty annals of short-sleeved-top-ery.

    So the question is this: Can you spend a day out in our city, at Santa Monica Pier and a game or two and at Universal CityWalk, and not come across a t-shirt or two or fifty or a thousand?

    Case rested. LA is a tee capital, period. Happy centennial, dear t-shirt.

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