The white t-shirt: who wore it best

The iconic wardrobe staple, like many of the most recognisable pieces in the wardrobes of men today, started life in the military. In 1913, the U.S Navy issued the white crew necks for all men to wear under their uniforms, and before long the Army too had adopted the same plain white t-shirt as standard-issue. Much like the aviator sunglasses and the leather bomber jacket, it wasn’t long before legions of young men were adopting the style as a symbol of strength, masculinity and just the right amount of rebellion.

In 1920, ‘t-shirt’ was officially added to the English Dictionary and soon became the unofficial uniform of workers across the country, from mechanics and miners to farmers and factory workers. By the 1950s the white t-shirt had shot to iconic status and evolved from its sole use as an undergarment to a piece of apparel with the levels of cultural significance that only few can match. We turn to three of our favourite style icons who wore the crew neck better than anyone and whose appearances on the silver screen in said pieces are monumental moments in the history of fashion. The simple white t-shirt has stood the test of time like few other separates have in the past.

MARLON BRANDO IN A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

BRANDO - TGJ

THE YEAR: 1951
THE T-SHIRT: It was Brando who really took the t-shirt from workwear of the military to the mainstream market when he appeared in his torso grazing white crew neck in A Streetcar Named Desire, prompting t-shirt sales to hit a total of $180 million in the U.S that year.

Brando Style - TGJ

JAMES DEAN IN REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE

JAMES DEAN - TGJ

THE YEAR: 1955
THE T-SHIRT: The blue jeans, the red jacket and that white t-shirt. The crew neck took on some serious rebellious connotations when it appeared on the ever cool James Dean in the 1955 Rebel Without A Cause. The film alone cemented Dean’s reputation as a cultural icon of youth and rebellion and t-shirt sales rocketed after Dean appeared on screens across the world.

JAMES DEAN STYLE

STEVE MCQUEEN IN BULLITT

STEVE MCQUEEN - TGJ

THE YEAR: 1968
THE T-SHIRT: While James Dean might have done a fair amount for the reputation of the humble white t-shirt, the late 60s saw a resurgence of cool-factor bestowed upon it when the original King of Cool donned it both on and off our screens. Never has someone made a white t-shirt, black jeans and desert boots look so effortlessly smooth as McQueen.

MCQUEEN STYLE - TGJ

Further Reading