T-shirts evolved from undergarments worn in the 19th century, originally one-piece underwear and later tops and bottoms often with buttons. During the latter part of the 19th century miners and dock workers adopted T-shirts to accommodate hot working environments.
According to Wikipedia more contemporary slip on T's without buttons appeared sometime between 1898 during the Spanish-American War and 1913 when the U.S Navy began issuing them as standard undergarments. They soon became popular with many laborers and young boys. By the 1920s the word T-shirt appeared in the Merriam Webster dictionary.
One of the earliest examples of print, decorated T-shirts was related to the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz". By the 1950s more companies began decorating T's with graphics and logos. And by the 1960s the T-shirt emerged as a fashion staple for youth and rockers. The 1960s also included the emergence of tie-dyeing and screen-printing. The T became a medium for wearable art, advertising, souvenirs and protest art.
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Photo: U.S. Naval Historical Center
An early printed T-shirt
Sailor Arnold R. Fesser in 1944 (Wikipedia)
photo: Joe Shlabotnik