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The History of Printed Shirts: Things You Need to Know

Style & Design Tips

The History of Printed Shirts: Things You Need to Know

Printed shirts come in a variety of designs, colors, and sizes to suit the unique preferences of global citizens. But what we rarely think about is the history of printed shirts and how the printed shirts originally came into being?

Originally, t-shirts were worn as undershirts under the uniforms of veteran men. They were later developed into a tool for branding and self-expression. Below we've rounded up the history of printed shirts and help you better understand how they've evolved over the years.

The Origin of the Printed Shirts: The Earlier Years

Ancient China is the origin of the decorative garment industry. Around the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), that's where silkscreen (a form of stenciling) was developed. This process originally used silkscreens, hence the common name silk screening. This technique has been extended over the years with new methods spreading to Asian countries such as Japan, and was furthered by creating newer methods. In the late 1700s, it was Europe from Asia but wasn't popular until later.

Woodblock printing, an even older textile printing method, was also invented in China around AD 220 and introduced to Europe in the 1100s. However, European dye is limited to non-washable items because it tends to liquefy when wet. This limitation was overcome when the French discovered methods of washing dyed fabrics from India, and it was developed rapidly in France and later in England.

Around the same time that screen printing was introduced to Europe, the British textile industry, which had been expanding steadily since the late Middle Ages, gradually became the first major industry to be industrialized. In 1734, started with the "flying shuttle" and in early 1800, on to operate in steam-powered factories. The mass production of textiles became practical and the production labor cost was cut thanks to industrial inventions.

The Start of T-shirts

As the Industrial Revolution proceeded, the union suit was one of the inventions that became popular in the 1800s. Over time, instead of one piece, the suit split in half, with the top half (with or without buttons) becoming a separate shirt extended somewhat so that it could tuck into the lower half, now separate pants. Later in the 1800s, miners and stevedores wore it as their main shirts in a hot environment.

Around the time of the Spanish World War, t-shirts were first introduced in the United States. They were given to members of the United States Navy and used to be worn as undershirts underneath their uniforms. These are white cotton undershirts with crew neck and short sleeves.

Soon afterward sailors and Marines in work parties, the early submarines, and tropical climates commonly took off their uniform jackets, wearing (and soiling) only the undershirt. It spread to agriculture and other workers ever since. During the Great Depression, the t-shirt was gradually picked up by boys and widely used as an all-around work shirt. T-shirts became more and more popular after the end of World War 2 and soldiers brought them back home.

The Rise of Printed Shirts

In the early 1900s, various improved methods of screen printing were developed. Even the National Serigraphic Society was formed to promote it as an art.

In the beginning 1950s, print and t-shirts began to be combined. Several companies based in Miami and Florida use the resort's name and characters to decorate printed t-shirts. In the '60s, monochromatic shirts with contrast collars and sleeves (aka "ringer" t-shirts) were introduced.

Immediately they became the "uniform" of rock-n-rollers, hippies, political protestors, and drug heads. During this period, popular designs included swirling colorful designs, happy faces, or the famous "I ♥ NY" inscription. Finally, after Hollywood actor Don Johnson wore a t-shirt on screens in the 1980s, they became popular.

Screen printing is getting more improved after printed t-shirts became famous. American artist, entrepreneur, and inventor Michael Vasilantone 1960 began developing, using, and selling rotary multicolor screen printing machines. This type of machine quickly became the most popular garment printer (until this day). And garment printing is also the most popular form of screen printing.

Big brands started using printed shirts as a form of advertising in the 1970s. Starting with Disney and Coca-Cola, printed shirts spread with many companies printing their logos on them. Printed shirts based on film and TV were developed as well.

In the early 2000s, especially after popular pop artists started wearing them, funny, political, and "statement" printed shirts became all the rage. They are also very popular with events, charities, and local businesses. As of 2015, the popularity of printed shirts shows no sign of slowing down in popularity.

Conclusion: Printed Shirts in the Internet Age

Nowadays, printed shirts are more fashionable and trendy than ever. With today's technologies in use, there are many ways to print and produce printed shirts. And as long as you have access to the Internet, you can always find loads of designs and inspiration.

Printed shirts have gradually become a popular branding tool, not only for businesses but also for people in many situations like:

  • School organization
  • Sports team
  • People who want to share interests (movies, bands, games, etc.)

Across the history of printed shirts, the wardrobe staple has certainly evolved from its original purpose and is now a great and flexible tool for self-expression.


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