Do All Your T-Shirts Spark Joy?
You may have more than you need and don’t know how to let them go. In my recent years working as an image and style expert, I have assisted many people in clearing their closets of un-necessary clothing that lie dormant in their drawers and closets. My intention is to help people discover their own “inner stylists” by identifying the top three Fashion Icon Archetypes that dominate their preferred style. This helps them to stay true to who they are and not fall prey to outer influences that really don’t serve the way they show up in their worlds. The male clients I work with are the least challenging. I find men are more willing to hire & pay professionals in whatever areas they don’t excel in, so they can raise the bar in their careers without wasting time trying to figure things out for themselves. These men are open and eager to learning and discovering parts of themselves they hadn’t known before. And, they like the attention! So I ask them, Do all your T-shirts spark joy?
In the process of “dressing” men, I too have learned a lot about the way they see themselves and the clothes they hold onto speaks volumes about men in general. However, dressing my boyfriend is another thing. Since he does not pay me for my services – he can be a lot more resistant to my advice, even when my advice has proven to garner him A LOT of attention, to the tune of menswear designers asking to use his pictures for their own online promotions!
Overtime he has learned to trust that I do know what I am talking about and he certainly doesn’t mind it when I shop for him, drop his shirts off at the dry cleaners, and help him clear his closets! Up until recently it has been all fun and games – and then it came time to clear out his overstuffed drawers… the drawers he could barely open or close due to the volume of T-shirts that were smashed inside them! At first run through, my Larry was harboring over 200 hundred T-shirts! I was baffled and frustrated when trying to help him part with any of them. But it got me thinking, what is it about his T-shirts that “spark joy?”
My degrees in spiritual psychology and over forty years working in the fashion industry, reminded me there had to be a deeper meaning to his obsession with T-shirts and so I started digging into the history and meaning of the T-shirt.
Do All Your T-Shirts Spark Joy?
The first T-shirt’s were 19th century undergarments. Men’s underwear was closely linked with hygiene; associating these undergarments with athleticism and sexuality. First, the one-piece union suit underwear was cut in half to make separate top and bottom garments, with the top long enough to tuck under the waistband of the bottoms. They were adopted by miners and dock workers in the late 19th century.
T-shirts date back to sometime between the 1898 Spanish-American War and in 1913, when the U.S. Navy began issuing them as undergarments. The crew-necked, short-sleeved, white cotton undershirt was worn under a uniform. It became common for sailors and Marines in work parties, the early submarines, and tropical climates to remove their uniform jacket, wearing (and soiling) only the undershirt. They soon became popular as a bottom layer of clothing for workers in various industries,
The word T-shirt appeared in the American English dictionary in the 1920s, and T-shirts became the go-to garment worn when doing farm or ranch chores around the Great Depression.
Following World War ll, T -shirts were worn by Navy men as undergarments and slowly became common to see veterans wearing their uniform trousers with their T-shirts as casual clothing. Printed T-shirts were in limited use by 1942 when an Air Corps Gunnery School T-shirt appeared on the cover of LIFE magazine.
The shirts became even more popular in the 1950s after Marlon Brando sported them in the Oscar winner film, A Streetcar named Desire. James Dean made wearing t-shirts rebellious and cool when he wore a white t-shirt in the classic 1955 movie Rebel Without a Cause. This raised the status of T-shirts to be regarded as fashionable, stand-alone, outerwear garments, coinciding with US T-shirt sales soaring to total of $180 million!
Since the 1960s, T-shirts gained popularity for self-expression as well for advertisements, protests, and souvenirs. The “ringer” T-shirt became a staple fashion for youth and rock-n-rollers. The decade also produced the art of tie-dyeing and screen-printing and the T-shirt became wearable art. In the late 1960s, The Monster Company in Mill Valley, California, set up to produce fine art designs expressly for T-shirts. Monster T-shirts often feature emblems and motifs associated with the Grateful Dead and the marijuana culture. The shirts also became marketing materials for major American consumer products and commonly used to commemorate an event, or to make a political or personal statement since the 1970s.
Many notable and memorable T-shirts produced in the 1970s have become ensconced in pop culture. Remember the bright yellow Happy Face T-shirts? Still alive and kicking is the Rolling Stones “tongue and lips” design. In the mid-1970s, New York City’s crime rate was up, and the city was widely perceived to be dangerous and was on the verge of bankruptcy. In 1977, the city hired advertising agency Wells Rich Greene and graphic artist Milton Glaser to design a logo to increase tourism and boost morale. That logo has earned the New York state $30 million each year and has become a pop culture icon reproduced on T-shirts and hats seen all over in New York.
T-shirts are among the most worn garments of clothing used today.
The early first decade of the 21st century proved T-shirts to be popular again with slogans and designs that were both the humorous and/or ironic.
Since the late 1980s and especially the 1990s, T-shirts with prominent designer-name logos have become popular too. Slogans were an 80’s thing in the UK and were used to represent rock bands, among other obscure pop-culture references.
T-shirts became a manifesto of resistance to propaganda. Take for example the Sex Pistol’s anarchist fashion icon archetype look for the disenfranchised youth; “GOD SAVE THE QUEEN’ T-shirt,
designed and deconstructed by Vivienne Westwood.
Designer Katherine Hamnette in the early 1980s, pioneered outsize T-shirts with large-print slogans that read: “CHOOSE LIFE” – “USE A CONDOM” and “PEACE.”
Hamnettes’ ideas were copied and used by the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood T-shirt that read: “FRANKIE SAYS RELAX” Groups like Wham, Queen, and others followed suit.
Tummy crunches became a must when in the 1990s after Shania Twain sparked the trend in women’s clothing wearing tight-fitting cropped T-shirts short enough to reveal the midriff.
The last 20 years it has become common practice for companies of all sizes to produce T-shirts with their corporate logos or messages as part of their overall advertising campaigns. T-shirts with prominent designer-name logos have become popular too and now we pay them to advertise their brands.
Today the rise of social media, video sharing, and online shopping has caused a proliferation of new T-shirt ideas and trends.
“My parents went to Las Vegas and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”
Back to clearing the mountainous T-shirt pile on my beloved’s bed…We identified his three most dominant Fashion Icon Archetypes as the Athlete, Anarchist, & Alchemist personalities, helping him stay true to his preferred style. Larry realized he was harboring many of his t-shirts of guilt because they were given to him as gifts, jokes, or promotional merchandise from people he worked with or brands he worked on. Even the ones with the bloodstains and roach burns had a nesting place in his drawers! As a tried and true surfer, naval aviator, punk rocker, movie exec, Larry could see that the joy some of his T-shirts once sparked had fizzled out. Now it would be easier for him to “let go” of over half of the t-shirts that had set up an encampment of sorts in his closet. Now it made total sense that all those Roger Federer, UCLA Bruins, Navy, O’Neill Surf, Birdwell, and Dodger T-shirts meant so much to him and he kept the ones that mattered to him most.
In the end, my resistant customer kept 100 T-shirts rolled nicely, like joints in his coveted drawers.
T-Shirts have a rich history in our culture and the deeper meanings of what they represent are sacred and personal to each individual. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t own at least one T-shirt. If you do…then I suggest be a T-Shirt hero and gift them one of yours!
Do all your T-shirts spark joy? Get to know your own inner stylist and stay loyal to him or her.
Until then..Anchors aweigh!