I’ve been asked a lot about the history and authenticity of our WWII reproduction t-shirts. To answer all of your questions, I’ve decided to write a series of articles on the t-shirt during WWII. What most of us don’t realize is that the t-shirt is perhaps the U.S. Military’s greatest contribution to fashion. In fact, if it weren’t for WWII, you most likely wouldn’t have t-shirts in your closet at all!
Let’s back up to the 1930’s for a second. It was considered proper to wear an undershirt -a white cotton t-shirt, sleeved or sleeveless – under everything. Dress shirts were expensive, and wearing an undershirt was thought to prolong the life of a shirt. In the days before air conditioning, an undershirt was also used to keep sweat marks from appearing on a man’s dress shirt.
And, then, in 1934, at the height of the depression, Clark Gable took off his undershirt, and so did all of the men in America. The movie was “It Happened One Night”, and when Gable’s character took off his dress shirt, to reveal his chest, there was no undershirt! Did every house wife want to see her husband bare chested, or did Gable show that real men didn’t need undershirts? In either case, between the depression, and Clark Gable’s bare chest, the sale of undershirts dropped dramatically.
Now, the t-shirt continued to have a life of it’s own amongst laborers and working men. As shown in the 1936 sears catalog, the “GOB” style all purpose undershirt shirt was being sold “for camping, sports, and work”. It’s not even called a t-shirt yet.