The Humble T-Shirt

The white T-shirt and how we wear it is a journey that many of us probably know very little about and even less care, we just love to wear it and wear it many ways at that.  It has become a staple in both sexes wardrobes, a status simple for the Levi’s wearing diet coke model who for some reason or other always has to wipe sweat from his brow.  It’s a gangland uniform that is banned in many places and a firm favorite of Eminem (or at least his alter ego “Slim shady.”)  Long before this it was being made famous by such studs as Marlon Brando and the style classic that was James Dean.  These men or dare I say the talented stylists that placed the T-shirts on these fine gentlemen were breaking fashion boundaries as the T-shirt as we know it now was merely considered an under garment and would rarely if ever be seen outside your front door and had no place in fashion of the time being used only to keep you warm or sadly to soak up sweat before it would embarrassingly be seen on your shirt.  As a non-sweater I actually have never seen the theory in this although I have had friends tell me they use T-shirts under their shirts for just this.  It is my theory that having another layer of clothing beneath a shirt my be the reason that one sweats so much in the first place, prove me otherwise and I will condone this strange practice but I ask you first to try my way as crazy and euro bohemian as it my seem, life on the edge eh.  I have always had a problem of the way American men wear a T-shirt under their shirt and I would bet our women would much prefer to rip open our shirts to expose our manly chests, or at least for those of you who have them, then to try and ravage us to be met with a cotton and polyester mix fruit of the loom garment that unless they had the unique talents of Michael Jackson would not be able to rip said white T-shirt from your over excited body so may in fact quash the entire moment.  Imagine you are about to have an intimate moment with your wonderful lady and as you lift up her hot A-line skirt and pries it over her hips to be met with a large pair of ill fitting cotton and polyester mix granny pants and you can start to get the picture as to what the experience may be like for the woman.  Basically, I am saying, take your fucking T-shirts off from beneath your shirts you idiots. Be a man!

So if you are not supposed to wear a T-shirt under your shirt then when is the right time to wear one?  I think there are many ways and occasions that it is not acceptable to wear a T-shirt but you should always be aware that just because its ok to wear something does not mean that you should or at the very least cannot find something better.  I have often found the white T-shirt a safe choice in my past thinking that it gave me a certain level of cool or that I looked like I didn’t care too much about where I was going or that I was so blasé about what was going on around me.  But looking back I can see how juvenile I must have looked to those who knew better, I was in fact being different because maybe I was not up to the task of dressing for that particular occasion.  I remember actually going to an event at the Dorchester in London were I attempted wearing jeans to a black tie event thinking I was extremely rock and roll to be told I would not be allowed into the event and had to go home and change into something more appropriate i.e. a suit, humbled I dare say I was, thankfully I lived next door at the time so I was able to return rather quickly dressed in my vintage Yves Saint Laurent I had purchased for the princely sum of one hundred solid British pounds.  I have to say I felt much more comfortable that evening swanning around or should I say pea-cocking at my royal best and getting more compliments that the emperor in his new clothes..  Oh that’s right he was naked, well by the end of the evening so was I, win win.  This does flash the little bit of info across my weak mind.  “You can never be over dressed”.  This is a good tip that will serve you well and will deserve its own chapter in good time.

Back to the T-shirt…  Its a versatile piece that thankfully has out grown its undergarment roots and has been placed firmly into the summer and winter/fall collections of us all and takes on many functions from a piece that keeps you warm to major political expression.  You only have to point towards the infamous Che Guevara staring at you from more than a million students chests, a picture taken by Alberto Korda I can only assume he never had the premonition that this would be the case and that his image would be screen printed more times than a Irish man orders a Guinness, in fact I think he may get beat out there but sounds like something id have a flutter on.

Let me delve a little deeper into what was really the birth of the T-shirt if you care little about the history I am about to regurgitate then please jump this entire lump but as it happens the humble T-shirts origins all eventually stemmed themselves in the world of military requirement.  In about 1913 amendments to the uniforms of both the Royal Navy and the United States Navy meant British servicemen wore a vest-type undergarment and American seamen a cropped sleeve undershirt – an evolution of the square-necked, shoulder-buttoning shirt worn since the 1880s.  The changes were ostensibly made to leave men’s arms free when they preformed deck chores or manned armaments.  White (still the T-shirts most popular color) was chosen for several reasons:  it married well with the colors of navy uniforms, it was cheap to manufacture as it required no dying, and since it revealed dirt it helped to maintain self-discipline and maintain hygiene.  The problem was that the British garment offered little protection and the American one was made of wool flannelette and took a long time to dry.

The popularity of the simple T-shirt grew in the run-up to the United States entry into the second World War: a Sears, Roebuck and Co. advertisement proclaimed, “You needn’t be in the army to have your own personal T-shirt” Suggesting the item was fast becoming indicative of a certain heroism or machismo.  Nevertheless, wearing an uncovered T-shirt did not become socially acceptable until after the war, when public resistance had been worn down by images of soldiers at work and unconcerned with propriety.  In July 1942, six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the cover of Life magazine featured a trainee at the Air Corps Gunnery Scholl wearing a T-shirt, with the institutions name emblazoned across its front.  The white T-shirt became an official part of the US Army duty uniform only after the war and was later dyed khaki to make it less obvious to enemy fire.

You see for me that is still where the roots of the T lay and often if I wear one, which is not too often these days, I find myself wanting to wear the tight version I would have dawned in my robust youth.  On overall style I think the T-shirt is always best when fitted correctly being neither tight or baggy which is where I sit with most clothing but its an easy mistake to make when you just grab what you think is your size, or the size you have been wearing incorrectly for way too long.  How should a T-shirt fit well this actually depends of course on the wearer but almost more on the style or feel that said wearer is trying to achieve.  You see the difference between Marlon Brando and Eminem whom I before mentioned is that they are wearing the same garment in two very different ways.  One is tight and spread across a bulk of man meat where the other is worn long baggy and loose and seems to be draped over small bleach headed chicken.  In fact the reason the long white and loose T-shirt is so popular in gang culture is some what of a crafty ploy to confuse the long arm of the law as when a call would be put out for a gang member that was up to no good (i.e. opposed to the one who was helping out at the food shelter) then the pigs i.e.. Good fellow police officer or “Bobby” which is what they are so affectionately called in the UK would have great trouble finding out which gentleman dressed head to toe in what could be described as a white cotton moo moo he was trying to apprehend.  I believe there is a term for this style of dress, which I will add in later.  So up to now I have mainly talked about the white T-shirt and its humble origins and now of course there are many styles and a billion possible prints and colors and of course there should be.  You can now get T-shirts the price of a good car and you will find a healthy bunch of them hanging in your local goodwill or favorite charity shop for fifty cents, which is where I buy mine.  I have paid for expensive T-shits before and I have never felt the value of my investment physically in the fabric or enjoyed what the T-shirt brought me anymore than the one that I picked up from the previously mentioned Goodwill.  I think its time to go through so T-shirt does and dont’s.  The T-shirt is still an undergarment and If you are a little conservative and want consider yourself to be well dressed then you will wear it as such or strictly keep it for being very casual and even then you MUST dress it up by sharpening up the rest of your attire.  But if like the millions who are very casual in their styling then I would say depending on what you are wearing and to what you going too then you can almost wear a T-shirt every bloody day although I would always steer well away from anything that has a slogan on or something that you thought was witty.  Its not funny and you just look like a dick and in fact if you are over 35 years of age and doing this then you really do look like a right James Hunt (please do not look that up in a slang dictionary).  Where would rock and roll be if you couldn’t wear a T-shirt anytime you felt like it but please choose carefully and always try and balance up your outfit to carry off your personal style and not be pigeon holed into looking like your favorite indie band front man and lets face it your probably not tall and emaciated like him either, what a shame.  I of course am a big fan of my Rags & Riches style which is the perfect way to approach wearing T’s on the regular because it asks you to take what your doing with the T-shirt and play it up a little with the other elements of the look.  If you really wear something that’s tow up then I like to lift it with accessories like a fine gold watch or a delicate bracelet.  This denotes the ruff and ready feel of the T and brings a level of sophistication to the look making you look like a right diamond geezer or maybe just a standard Jack the lad.

I will of course show plenty of examples of how I see this going down and hope that you learned a little bit about the story of your macho white T-shirt and then think a little more about when and where you should wear one.  If you have any questions or comments I would hate to hear them so fuck off.  JK.

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