T-shirt – Cult, Culture, Subversion - Read the Banana Moon Blog for news & stories

T-shirt – Cult, Culture, Subversion

If any exhibition was more relevant to our field of work, it would be this one! At the fashion and textiles museum, London, we took a look at the unique history of the t-shirt. From beginnings – dating back to AD 500 (who’d have thought?!), to where it is today.

University T-shirt – Originally designed in 1932

Before we look at the process of t-shirt design, I thought I’d tell you something interesting I learnt. The ‘Property of’ T-shirt originated at the University of Southern California in 1932, when the school’s football coach introduced an undershirt that could absorb sweat and protect players’ skin from chafing due to the weight of the sport’s protective gear. To discourage theft they had printed on them ‘Property of USC’, but this only made them more desirable and it has been a fashion staple ever since.

Screen print

A huge number of textural and pictorial messages can be conveyed on a t-shirt using a variety of techniques. The most prevalent in this exhibition was screen-printing. Originating in China during the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279). Screen-printing on cotton jersey was advanced by the development of plastisol inks in the 1950s.

This was further advanced by printing with an adhesive instead of an ink so flocked effects could be achieved. This gave an interesting feel and textural element to the garments.

Plastisol transfer

In the early 1960s plastisol transfer (we call it vinyl) was introduced, allowing designs to be applied using heat. These transfers came in many different colours and were developed into glitters as well! So even more dazzling designs could be created.


Embroidery has always been a common embellishment for textiles – dating back as early as 5th-3rd century BC but remains a favourite with lots of people today. This is simply where a design, message… anything really, is stitched onto a t-shirt using coloured thread.

Digital printing

In the last 30 years digital printing has revolutionised t-shirt decoration meaning realistic designs can be reproduced directly and easily onto garments.

This all assures that t-shirts will continue to be embellished in more and more exciting ways and the desire for them will grow – by the year 2000 more than two billion t-shirts were sold each year and the number has kept rising ever since.

T-shirt messages

The T-shirt has definitely served as a canvas for all types of expression. Band tees being a main point of interest – lots of iconic t-shirts were being shown. More recently political statements and messages have been the main point of interest in fashion tees. With Dior sending models down the catwalk in 2017 wearing ‘WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS’, really causing a stir. Ones below are showing messages about the environment and how we should be protecting it.


‘To wear a t-shirt is to be part of a never-ending conversation’
What would your t-shirt message be?

Create yours!

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