T-Shirt Printing As Fine Art and Protest Medium

The printed t-shirts you wear with pride has come a long way from being a simple undergarment worn by soldiers on the battlefields of the two World Wars. Today, you will find this piece of clothing reflecting the sparkle of flashes on a Paris catwalk and drenched by a water cannon on some street protest somewhere.

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Tested in war, immortalized by heroes

Ancestors of the t-shirt are in almost every culture. The clothing we know today, though, is believed to be a direct descendant of the undershirt worn by soldiers from as far back as the First World War. According to one story, American soldiers adopted the t-shirt from the lightweight cotton undershirts of their European counterparts. By World War II, the t-shirt was the standard issue upper undergarment for soldiers of the United States.

After the Second World War, veterans began to appear in public wearing only their t-shirts as an upper garment Comme des Garçons Play . It was only in the 1950s, though, when the t-shirt jumped to the public’s consciousness after icons like Marlon Brando, John Wayne, and James Dean began wearing this in public. Dean’s sudden death cemented the t-shirt’s image as cultural icon as much as it did the actor himself, especially since he wore a t-shirt prominently in Rebel Without a Cause.

Symbol and canvass

The t-shirt rose to cultural prominence in the peak of 1960s counterculture. With the adoption of screenprinting, it now became possible for printed t-shirts with a specific design to be made in large quantities. T-shirt printing became a rewarding business as musicians and athletes jumped into the bandwagon with custom printed t-shirts.

The invention of more methods of decorating t-shirts in succeeding decades solidified its role as a medium of self-expression, especially in the 1980s. Digital design and printing in the late 1990s and the early 21st century gave people more ways to use the t-shirt as a canvass for ideas and images. Several artists like Bill Beckley and Peter Klashorst use the garment as a medium for their own brand of artistry.

Corporations also saw the potential of the t-shirt, this time as an excellent medium for advertising campaigns. Although there were instances of the t-shirt as marketing tool during earlier decades, it was only in the 1990s that corporations started putting their logos and campaign slogans on t-shirts. T-shirts became an economical way to get more money out of fans and loyal customers.

Political movements and non-governmental organizations also used printed t-shirts for their own campaigns. Putting one’s slogan on printed t-shirts has the same effect as a raised placard, except that it threatens people less and becomes a fashion statement. One of the best examples is the Che Guevara shirts.

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