This article monitors movements in design styles, garment-printing applications, types of wearables, and more.
By Ed Branigan
Graphic T-shirts have become such a part of everyone’s wardrobe style that it’s hard to imagine that only recently cool Ts have become fashionable. Until the middle of the 1990s T-shirts were casual, often times doubling as their original use, which was underwear. Men, in particular, were—and still are to some extent—comfortable with this format. We wore T-shirts in the evenings at home or on Saturdays when we were working on home stuff or hanging out with our friends. T-shirts were for the times when you didn’t care what you looked like. You didn’t wear a T-shirt to a restaurant, the office, or to other formal occasions because they weren’t dressy enough. Anyone who broke these informal rules would be considered unfashionable.
The type and style of graphics used to imprint T-shirts and how they’ve evolved since the early 1970s when T-shirts became items of mass merchandise, tell a similar story.
Graphic elements were simple, mostly sports or collegiate in origin and style. The music industry also played a part with the T-shirt as show merchandise blossomed from humble beginnings with vendors following bands like the Grateful Dead from show to show, to a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry. Nowadays, aspiring and successful bands alike sign separate contracts for the music and the merchandise with the latter oftentimes worth more. Even so, guys who bought shirts at concerts or who liked to wear their favorite team’s logo still weren’t likely to wear them outside of the social contexts mentioned above. T-shirts were still casual garments and were treated as such.
Looking at the variety of inks and application methods available in the early years, it’s easy to see that there were slim pickings. In the 1970s, aside from flat plastisol prints, you could have puff inks. The real variety came later when the T-shirt crossed over to fashion. Then it became not only OK, but essential for print and merchandising companies to invest time and money in researching garment print applications (Figure 1).
Even so, the targeted market was younger. It was fine for teenagers or college-aged men to wear imprinted T-shirts socially, but once you grew up they became casual wear again. Stylistically, the graphic elements were still simpler. The ability of print companies to produce multicolor prints in the large volumes that we are accustomed to today was still in its infancy.
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