This article originally appeared on NeedSupply.com.
Fashion without the T-shirt is like coffee without a cup: directionless, too hot. And so it is almost inconceivable to think that through the first half of the 20th century it was considered only an undergarment: a hidden nod to Victorian modesty in a newly mass-produced age. From the 1950s onwards, however, the graphic T rapidly emerged as a building block for individualism, free speech, and style. Here’s how the T with graphics went from Army gear to everyone’s indispensable wardrobe staple.
In the interim between WWI and WWII, T-shirts began to appear in earnest in U.S. Army uniforms thanks to jersey fabric that was tough, cool and ideal for training on hot days. By the 1950s hot rod rabble-rousers with slicked back hair had appropriated the T defiantly and to good effect — usually accompanied by blue jeans, black shades and a pack of smokes rolled neatly into a sleeve — thanks in no small part to original cool kids, James Dean and Marlon Brando.