Modern day Icons: The History of the Graphic T-shirt



The fashion industry transcended to the level of high art many decades ago, and ever since then designers have revolutionised and re-envisioned items of clothing time and time again. This is especially true for one icon of the industry in particular, and that is the T-shirt.

As a blank canvas for innovative designs that speak from the heart, the modern day graphic T-shirt has taken fashion through times of cultural change and risen to become a cultural icon. Here we take you through the history of one of the industry’s most important pieces, the T-shirt.

The origins of this undisputed fashion icon are debated among experts. The majority of them agree that the first usage of the T-shirt was sometime in the early 1900s when the U.S Navy began to issue all new recruits with the garment to be worn underneath their uniforms.

The popularity of this revolutionary undergarment among the troops led to this iconic 1942 Time Magazine cover. It displays an Air Corps heavy machine gunner with the emblem ‘Air Corps Gunnery School’, the cover made a bold statement unifying the tee with the U.S Navy.


In the proceeding decades, the T-shirt became the favourite choice of army cadets and blue-collar workmen. The majority of designs began to lean towards bold statement prints and many portrayed patriotic symbolism that defined the person who wore it and the place they were coming from.

As with many aspects of the fashion industry, Hollywood’s adoption of this iconic garment helped provide it worldwide acclaim. This was most notable through the icon Marlon Brando who occupied a white tee when he portrayed the physically impressive and equally menacing Stanley Kowalski in 1947’s ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. At this time, the whole world had its eye on Hollywood’s future acting legend and his fashion statements continued to carry as much influence as his dynamite performance.

This item of clothing also transcended into other aspects of media, notably the music industry whereby it absorbed the growing culture. These designs were most apparent with 1970s designer Warren Dayton who pioneered the ubiquitous Rolling Stones ‘Tongue and Lip Design’ now worn by both young and old worldwide.


Throughout the next decade, the garment was adopted by some of the biggest names emerging in the fashion industry. As innovation exploded within the market they provided their own unique twist to the newly established icon. Such creativity included the v-neck that redefined the neckline, and cuts such as tank tops and ringers that let the rest of the industry know that anything was possible with the T-shirt.

Today, it has reached seemingly unreachable heights in terms of design innovation, with many methods of patterning fabrics now also expanded to create endless possibilities for designers. Where it was once a simple undergarment, the graphic t-shirt is now a mainstay piece for any modern wardrobe.

Seventyseven is one of the companies leading the way in modern day graphic T-shirt design. They provide a collection of original and amazing graphic T-shirts available to buy online, alongside a range of urban streetwear.

You can shop for graphic t-shirts at: