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Straight Out of Oz: The Infamous Origins of the Graphic Tee

kendall jenner graphic tee

Did you know the first graphic t-shifts may have been featured in the movie, “The Wizard of Oz”? In the 1939 film, there is a scene where workers are re-stuffing the scarecrow. They are each wearing a green t-shirt emblazoned with the word “Oz” in white letters. Since then the graphic tee has come a long way. Here’s a glimpse at its fascinating history.

In real life, tees started out as essential military gear. Between WWI and WWII, t-shirts became part of the U.S. Marine uniforms because the material was hard wearing, comfortable and easy to wash. They soon became popular with farmworkers, dockworkers, and other laborers.

One of the t-shirt’s most memorable appearances was in the movie A Streetcar Named Desire, where it was worn by rising star Marlon Brando, leading it to become something of a fashion statement. You can find more fascinating movie facts and stories, and get your fix of the latest entertainment news here.

Through the late 1950s and early 1960s, the plain white tee became an emblem of rock-a-billy boys with their slicked back hair and cocky attitude. Around the same time, Tropix Togs bought the rights from Walt Disney to print Mickey and friends on a t-shirt. Screen printed graphic became more and more popular on boys’ tees. They mainly featured race cars, sports, and superheroes.

sex pistols skinny jeans and graphic tees

Mandatory Credit: Photo by RICHARD YOUNG/REX/Shutterstock (74937a)

Thanks to an innovative new ink known as plastisol, graphic tees began to be much easier to make and between ’67 and ’69 they became wearable posters depicting satirical images and political propaganda. Increasingly bolder statements began to appear. Graphic tees were frequently worn by music icons like Jonnie Rotten, Mick Jagger and The Beatles, who used them to promote their band logos. DIY graphics tees became popular with the advent of iron-on transfers, which also facilitated their mass-production.

The 1970s saw two landmarks when it came to graphic tees. The first was the now famous tuxedo t-shirt with its many varieties. The second was the I-heart (symbol) t-shirt which began when the advertising agency Wells Rich Greene was hired to develop a marketing campaign for new York State. The I-heart design was quickly adopted by many other t-shirt makers.

The plain tee became popular again in the 80’s this time in pastel colors thanks to Miami Vice’s Don Johnson. The outfit was made complete with a white suit with rolled-up jacket sleeves and slip-on loafers.

The graphic tee took a new turn in the 2000s all because of the Three Wolf Moon tee which became top seller because of a string of satirical customer reviews.

Graphic tees are now becoming high tech with Broadcastwear’s Broadcast T-shirt which has a programmable LED screen that can be used to display different slogans as often as you like. You just program it using your smartphone.

Who knows where the graphic-tee will go next, but with the increasing advancements in smart clothes, it can only be somewhere it’s never been before.