Friday, December 13, 2019
In China there were brothels for the underclass; amid ranked brothel for soldiers only; as well as high class brothels for merchants, artists and high officials. Not only was sex for sale, but in the high class bordellos gentlemen were entertained with fine music, dancing, conversation and erotic titillation. The sex workers were well educated, trained in dance and poetry, competent musicians and well conversant with erotica. Foot sex was considered the highest form of sexual pleasure. Children were involved and bound feet were highly prized with opium often on sale.
By the 18th century, in Europe owning and leasing a brothel was a lucrative business. High-class brothels flourished and were furnished with the best furniture and owned by persons of high birth and prosperity. During La Belle Époque, prostitution was raised to an art form and prominent harlots such as, la Paiva, Caroline Otero, the Cockney Cora Pearl set themselves up in Paris, the Mecca of Europe. Cora Pearl was the Queen of the Paris courtesans during France's hectic, ill-fated Second Empire. She was an Englishwoman who captured the imagination of Paris Society. The term Le Demi Monde (morality and manners) was used to describe a woman whose marital infidelity or careless behaviour cast her outside the boundaries of respectable society.
In their heyday, Paris brothels like the "One-Two-Two, the brothel in the rue de Provence " and "Le Sphinx" featured cabaret entertainment and extravagant theme rooms, hosting illustrious guests like the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec or Prince of Wales. The future King Edward VII, had his own room at the opulent "Le Chabanais", where he was said to frolic in a giant copper bathtub filled with champagne. The brothel was where everybody went to eat good food and there was always a merry party atmosphere. Gaming houses and pleasure palaces prevailed and many punters came for the entertainment but could hire a girl if they wished. The best known and most lavish bordello in Paris, was the Chateau de Madame Gourdan on Rue des Deux Portes. It catered to the richest and most powerful men in Paris. At one time, the beautiful Madame du Barry was a working girl before she became mistress to the King. The place boasted of a seraglio (Turkish purdah rooms), a bath house and a spanking room. New workers were taken to the Cabinet de Toilette, where they were taught the arts of lovemaking before graduating as professionals. Madame Gourdan owned a large house in the country, known by local peasants as the "convent", where sick and pregnant employees were sent to recuperate or to confinement.
Another famous Parisian brothel owner was Madame Paris, who owned a bordello on Rue de Bagneaux. In 1750 Madame Paris opened another brothel, the Hotel du Roule in Faubourg St Honore, where workers in underwear and lingerie playing musical instruments, singing and dancing received their customers. A frequent visitor to the Palais Royale was the famous Casanova. In late 19th century, themed brothels became common in Paris, it was possible to visit Wagnerian theme brothels where one might enjoy a Rhine maiden or a Valkyrie.
Londoners in the 18th century were so libidinous that even a promiscuous Parisian might blush. One German traveller claimed London had 50,000 prostitutes, twice the number of Paris. This may, of course, reflect the Industrial Revolution, which brought country girls into the city who were then forced into prostitution to stave off poverty. High class London bordellos were modelled on the most famous late 17th century brothel of Mother Cresswell, who served her customers a repast of the best meats served with silver service and cutlery and the finest wines in crystal glasses before introducing them to her employees.
So many brothels existed in London in the 18th century that reformers began to demand regulation. The Disorderly Houses Act (1757) in England forced closure of bordellos, gaming houses and other premises of pleasure and many enterprising sex workers turned to private prostitution to avoid the law. In 1770 a list of sporting ladies was published and contained a who’s who of street workers for the more discerning kerb crawler.
Louisiana US was established under the French Monarchy in the early seventeen hundred and became a dumping ground for many of Paris’ degenerate members of society. A large number of criminals, prostitutes, and thieves found their new homes in the lands of the Delta (Modern-day New Orleans). Many former prostitutes were deported to become aids to the governing elite. The sophistication of Paris was replaced with an incredible jumble of cheap dance halls, brothels, saloons, gambling rooms, cockfighting pits, and rooming houses. This was home from home for many girls and by 1856 cries against prostitution were brought to the attention of the New Orleans council. In 1857, sex workers required licensing and the profession became taxable. The ordinance was soon declared unconstitutional and the attempts to regulate prostitution failed. People began moving their places of business closer to the downtown sections of New Orleans, to Gellatin Street behind the French Market, Smokey Row, and Basin Street. Their movement created a decline in the popularity of the earlier region, which was called the “swamp.” Gellatin Street became the centre of lascivious activities, including drugs, murder, and thieves.
By the late eighteen hundred residents of New Orleans had enough of a city rife with prostitution and in particular the developing middle classes who feared a drop in real estate values due to harlotry. In the early 1890’s, child prostitutes were removed from brothels. By 1894 brothels were cleared from many of the streets from the red light district Storyville was populated with a diverse group of colourful characters and the locals shared their streets with prostitutes, musicians, pimps and politicians. Tom Anderson, the “Mayor of Storyville,” ran most of its dealings through his brothel, called Anderson Annex. In 1905, he renamed the brothel, Arlington Annex, after his lover Josie Arlington.
Eventually Storyville district was closed in 1917 but the military soon established a new brothel just outside of the city, on the Gulf. Like other cities many of the Madams of Storyville become famous figures in the history of New Orleans. In 1870 Hattie Hamilton was a famous Madam who shot one of her clients. He was Mr. David Jackson, a Louisiana senator but she was released, by the police, without being questioned or charged.
In 1880 Lulu White was well known to the police force for numerous offences. Although she had a client list made up of some of the most prominent and wealthiest men in Louisiana she gave up her business in 1906 and moved to California.
In 1883, Kate Townsend was another famous madam who met an untimely death at the hands of her lover, Troisville Sykes. After a plea of self-defence, he was released and went on to inherit her ninety-thousand-dollar fortune.
Like Paris and London, Storyville district had its own unique Blue Book, a forty-page publication of personal promotional pages from each of the madams. The annual was underwritten and published by Tom Anderson.
Young American men were especially attracted to the French girls because they wore high heeled boots. Some of the madams realised the allure of the special footwear and imported them to an eager custom from young American women. The heel caught on as a fashion icon amongst respectable women and soon the first heel factory was established. Many historians believe this was the beginning of the fashion shoe industry in North America.
Thursday, December 12, 2019
During the nineteenth century there were several serious attempts to scientifically link foot types to criminal classes. Sex workers especially came in for more than their (un)fair share of interest. At an International Congress on Criminal Anthropology in 1886 it was reported prostitutes had distinctive foot types with their big toe widely separated from the other toes. The divergent ray theory or throwback to arboreal life would be more acceptable then and contemporary with the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin. This fascination with the feet of sex workers obviously lasted a full decade as the topic was still under discussion at another conference in 1896.
Caesar Lombroso (1836-1909), an Italian criminologist, held the confirmed belief the criminal population exhibited a higher percentage of physical and mental disorders than non-criminals. He was adamant "crims" were naturally stigmatised and convinced of all the criminal classes, prostitutes feet were considered to be most characteristic. Does make you wonder how he came to this revelation but the history books are not clear on this particular matter. In time most of Lombroso's work was eventually discredited but somewhat ironically his procrastinations did have a positive outcome. His tireless devotion to the incarcerated resulted in a more humane and conservative treatment of convicts.
In the grey world of sexual politics, it has been well established women are easy targets for medicalisation and at the slightest whim males are eager to compartmentalise their behaviour. Lombroso's fascination for the Victorian sex worker and insights did not extend to males, for example. Perhaps the thought was too unpalatable to bare but instead he concentrated on those working girls who wore high heeled shoes as part of their occupational attire. An easy target. Cheaply made and often ill fitting, restrictive footwear would result in many disfiguring symptoms which would condemn the "Jezebels" as well as provide a high moral code for the middle classes.
During the nineteenth century strange things were happening to unseat the balance of the male domain. Industrialisation with its emphasis on consumerism meant women were joining the workforce. The introduction of stores called for shop assistants to model the wears as well as sell the goods. Hence many women were required to sport fashionable high heeled shoes throughout the working day. Physicians, surgeons and chiropodists reported the phenomenon with foreboding warnings as to the evils of wearing high heeled shoes. Interesting to note many of their claims were ludicrous and had no foundation whatsoever. Later these were quietly recanted or conveniently forgotten but not before the point was made, women’s' shoes should carry a health warning. Note, men did not need the same benchmarks, since they wore sensible shoes, anyway.
In truth professional classes usually had their footwear made specifically for them, working classes took what was on offer and others, just went barefoot. Most of today’s shoe advice comes from this time of history and contemporary books read like modern literature on the subject. In truth little scientific evidence exists to support many of the claims podiatrists now seem to hold as true. Research in diabetic populations for example supports there are more foot problems reported in people with good fitting shoes then those without. Who would believe we continue to appropriate chauvinistic and Victorian social values in our foot health education.
Maybe that's the crime?
Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Remnants of leather loincloths were found with the remains of pre-historic man living 7,000 years ago. The loincloth was the simplest and probably the first undergarment worn by human beings. In warmer climates it was worn uncovered and in colder climates, loincloths were probably covered by outer clothing. The Egyptians (2nd millennium B.C.) used fabric to form an undergarment over which they wore a skirt. In pharaoh’s tombs loincloths were often buried along with their owners.
The Ancient Greeks dressed very simply with a 'chiton', an oblong of woollen cloth large enough to wrap around the body from the neck down to just above the knees. The side left open was fastened by a 'fibulae' a pin or brooch. A girdle was worn round it and the 'chiton' could be pulled through it and worn high by those who were physically active and left long by the older gentlemen. Over this was worn the 'himation', an outer cloak. Slaves wore loincloths. However, the ancient Greeks did not wear underwear.
The closest article of clothing worn by men in ancient Rome was called a subligaculum, which in modern terms means a pair of shorts or a loincloth and was worn under a toga or tunic.
Around the 13th century, pull-on underpants were invented and underwear became an important garment. The loincloth was replaced by large, baggy drawers called 'braies', which were often made from linen and seemed to be worn by men from all classes of society under their normal clothing. Knights wore 'braies' under several layers of clothing topped by their armour. The wearer stepped into them and then laced or tied them around the waist and legs at about mid-calf. Wealthier men wore chausses but these only covered the legs. In Europe underwear played an important role in shaping outerwear. Men’s sartorial developed during this time and this included corsets, cod pieces, stockings, undershirts and drawers.
Cod pieces were the sticky out bit at men’s nethers, as worn by Knights of Old and still to be seen in men’s ballet attire. The practical problem which beset our forefathers was the ability to match upper body clothing with leg attire. Catering for the calls of nature compounded so the upper crust simply flaunted their naughty bits as a fashion statement. In combat the cod piece protected the wobbly bits and was originally a cloth sheath rather like a baby’s nappy. Crossover to mainstream fashion meant the codpiece became highly decorated serving both as a boast and provocation. When amour was invented the cod piece remained.
Even later male clothing included a ‘sex purse’ and men vied with each other in their genital display. The popular sex pocket came to be known by various other names. Latin scholars called them ‘barca’ or ‘breeches’, the French insisted they were brayette or graguette; and the English used the Old English word cod meaning “bag”. Popularity for the cod piece peeked between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries when newer versions were developed. Padding and embroidery became more ornate. A real pocket was added where the wearer had a pocket to keep his purse, handkerchief or pieces of fruit, with little concealed suggestiveness. The latter was offered graciously to good looking ladies.
By the Renaissance, the 'chausses' became form fitting like modern hose, and the braies were worn shorter to accommodate longer styles of chausses. Braies were fitted with a flap in the front that buttoned or tied closed. The early fly front allowed men to urinate without removing their braies. Men's hose were worn snug on the legs and left open at the crotch, leaving the genitalia to hang free under the doublet. As the fashion for shorter doublets prevailed overexposed genitalia, were covered with the codpiece. The fly front of the braies corresponded to the codpiece. Less modest codpieces were shaped to emphasize the male genitalia. Henry VIII padded his codpiece and may well have set the trend for larger and larger codpieces. Cod pieces became passé by the end of the 16th Century. In days before pockets the codpiece was used to carrying valuables other than the crown jewels.
By Victorian times men's undergarments made from cotton, linen and even silk were in two pieces and made by hand. In America woollen flannel drawers were worn from the waist down. Most were knee length with a simple button overlap in front and a drawstring at the waist in the back. The preferred upper garment was a wool flannel shirt worn next to the skin. Mass production followed the invention of water-powered spinning machine and cotton fabrics became widely. For the first time, people no longer made their underwear at home but bought them in stores. The all in one union suit was worn by men and women and covered from the wrists to the ankles. The knitted union suits included a drop flap in the back. Hanes opened several mills producing 'union suits'. Originally made with ankle length legs and long sleeves, later versions were available in knee length versions with or without sleeves. Prior to elasticated waists gentlemen pinned their underpants to the inside of their trousers.
During the reign of Queen Victoria it was quite common for young boys to be dressed in frilly lace and short trousers. Boys wore bows on their shoes, shaved their legs and sported girlie underwear. Our great, great grandmothers were not lamenting not having female offspring by dressing their ‘laddies’ in ‘lassies’ clothes,’ instead the Victorian mothers wanted to discourage unhealthy flirting with teenage girls. The London Times published in its letters column the following endorsement from a concerned mother.
“I have found an effective cure for my 20-year-old son’s flirting with young ladies. When in mixed company, I dress him in corsets and a short kilt. Dressed as a Nancy boy, he is unable to look at a girl full in the eyes, let alone ogle her. I heartily recommend this form of correction.”
For this to appear in the letter column would confirm adolescence had its challenges then too.
Victorians were most inventive and during this Dark Age, some boys were fitted with a penal cage. The leather apparatus, sometimes covered with spikes, was worn to stop young men, day and night from doing what comes naturally. Later the cage appeared in 1885 and was a metal penis container which humanely allowed erection but prevented boys from touching them. A Scot’s physician Dr. John Moodie, developed an Apparatus for Boys which was truss-and-shield like device in 1848. It included a penis tube with a slot on the side for the boy to push his penis out in order to pass water. Before the Russian Revolution young conscripts had wire pushed through their foreskin and sealed with a picture of the Tsar. No much wonder there was a Revolution. The habit caught on however, and was soon imitated by parents unable to afford a penis cage. They just used a needle and thread. Now we know why children rebel.
Men’s underwear was revolutionized when US company, Coopers Inc of Kenosha, Wisconsin, introduced the X-front in 1910. These were sold as the Kenosha Klosed Krotch undergarment but because the overlying flaps were considered too fiddly the X-front flopped. In the 1920s, modelling underwear was thought to be morally wrong and early advertising shots showed models in black face-masks to hide their identities.
In the 1930s, union suits went out of favour and boxers and briefs became the 'vogue'. The first boxer shorts were button less drawers fitted with an elastic waistband. The name came from the shorts worn by professional fighters. The word "underpants" also entered the dictionary at this time. 'Jockey' began making briefs in 1930 but it was not until 1934 with the advent of 'Jockey' Y-vent briefs the design of men’s underwear took a leap forward. Traditional high and lox cut jockey shorts had vertical flaps or diagonal flaps.
Inspiration for the Y-front was the Jock Strap (sports strap). The tackle support was an instant success and is still going strong, sold in over 120 countries. JOCKEY Y-fronts were the first underwear ever to be displayed in a store. Before 1935 all pants were bought discreetly from a salesman who retrieved the required size from a hidden store-room.
In 1936, Munsingwear developed the 'kangaroo pouch' underwear which used a horizontal vent. When managers at the Marshall Field store in Chicago banned Y Fronts from a window display on the pretext it was ridiculous to flaunt such a skimpy design in the middle of winter. Before the display could be removed, 600 pairs had been sold. The same frenzy crossed the Atlantic in 1938 and soon there were 3,000 pairs of pants being sold per year in the UK.
Serving men in the US were issued with ‘Long Johns', i.e. long skin-tight underpants. The name was derived from the old boxing gear worn by John L. Sullivan, who was a boxer in the late 1880s, the height of his career being 1882-92. Colour became a practical option by troops eager to avoid target practice when they were hung out their ‘smalls’ to dry. In Civvy Street, Second World War rationing meant underwear was in short supply. Y-front factories stopped production and started to make parachutes for troops. Shortages forced the Jockey company to appeal to underpants wearers everywhere to send back the elastic from old pairs to help with the war effort. Button fastening returned because rubber and metal were no longer available. Knitted briefs, broadcloth shorts with buttons, and the union suit were popular during the war years.
Ingenious French backs were used to adjust fit. These were small tabs at the rear of the waistband, usually secured by buttons. Post war innovations included pre-shrunk materials prior to this, people bought underwear a size larger to allow for shrinkage in the wash. By the late 40s the introduction of synthetics with better elastic memory meant tighter fitting underwear. In 1948 every male athlete in the British Olympic team was given a free pair of Y-fronts.
New fabrics and a multitude of colours gave greater range to products for the post war generation. Underpants were more comfortable to wear and the long john lost out to the shorter Y front pants. A successful marketing ploy in the early 50s was to sell Y-fronts in sets of seven. Each set of briefs was labelled Monday to Sunday. Unlike T shirts however, men’s’ underpants were still unmentionable and not for public display. The first public demonstration of men’s underwear in this decade was the risqué Top 10 US hit "Short Shorts", by The Royal Teens (1958). The novelty record, so typical of the teen music of the time, made good use of shocking burlesque (a dying art form) with public reference to men’s underwear, and shorts at that.
In 1958 when they began to be advertised y Fronts on television, The Tonight Show host Jack Paar became so amused by the undergarments for men that his laughter strung a Y-front endorsement out for two minutes instead of the allowed 30 seconds. The next day Y Fronts sold out across the country. All this at a time when Elvis’s pelvic area could not be show on public television for the sake of decency.
Despite the availability of printed fabric and a rainbow of colours, white cotton remained popular with the conservative. Young people started to wear boxer shorts around the time of the Cassius Clay Vs Sonny Liston World Heavyweight Boxing Championship (1964).
By the time Freddy and the Dreamers reprised the Royal Teens hits ‘Shorts shorts’ they probably sold more boxer shorts than they did copies of their record.
The sixties saw a boom in package holidays and bikini style briefs (The 'bikini' was invented in 1946 by two Frenchmen, Jacques Heim and Louis Reard, who named it after the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the site of atomic bomb testing) became a strong challenge to boxers.
New fabric technology continued to offer better comfort in men's underwear, particularly with the introduction of Lycra and Spandex. Low slung hipster style trousers meant less obvious undergarments were preferred. Underwear became smaller with far more variety designed for specific age groups and purposes. Adverts for Y Fronts urged men to change their underpants every day, boasting of nine different styles at "rock bottom" prices. Contemporary research showed men wearing tight fitting briefs were more likely to suffer infertility due to the increased temperatures surrounding the genitals. Y-fronts countered their product provided much need aeration. Research published by the company showed the average man's private parts had increased in size over the past 20 years.
1970s and 1980s
Commercial interest in sport meant men’s underpants became body enhancing and like women's designs, the newest and hottest styles were almost totally seamless. The thong was very popular in Brazil and worn by the beach Adonis crowd. Fashion crossover into underwear meant the thong became popular as underwear not only for its erotic appeal, but because it gave a smooth and rounded finish to bottoms encased under tight trousers.
In ‘Saturday Night’s Fever’, John Travolta’s physique was enhanced with no visible panty line and this resulted in briefs and thongs being worn by the disco generation. Meantime men’s briefs got briefer and became the preserve of designers such as Calvin Klein. Underwear was a fashion statement available in unusual fabrics and wonderful colours and combinations. Sex appeal was the main selling point for major advertising campaigns.
When in the 80s Nick Kamen unbuttoned his Levi 501s revealing a pair of white boxers to the tune of ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, it was thought by many to be the end for the Y-front. Not a lot of people know the Kamen’s Levi commercial would have featured the model in a pair of Y-fronts but the advertising censors decreed them indecent.
Again medical scares of impotency due to tight underpants may well have influenced some, but certainly boxer shorts made a comeback into fashion in the 90’s. No longer baggy the new boxers maintained the tightness of briefs. Pouch boxer briefs had a pocket for the genitals rather than an access flap and athletic and bike-style boxers were generally skin-tight, usually with no access pouch or flap. These were like short tights.
The Third Millennium
Now anything goes from boxers to G-strings made in all manner of materials from sumptuous silks to eco-friendly bamboo.
The anti-fashion crowd have even started to go commando or going without underwear, a practice also known as free balling. Ironically the trend emphasizes how far underwear has come from its beginnings as a hygienic aide. Because we bathe every day, underwear is not nearly as necessary as it once was but because underwear is seen as the final barrier to sex, not wearing any at all is also considered a powerful turn-on for many people. In the cult of the urban punk intimate tattoo have replaced nether garments. As any true Scotsman will testify, traditionally there is nothing worn under the kilt as everything is in perfect working condition.
Tuesday, December 10, 2019
La Belle Époque relates to the time in history when all things artistic came together in one place and that was Paris in the Nineteenth century. Great philosophers and artists were in abundance as a new order of civilization was born. In typical human fashion, all manner of excesses was in evidence and whilst polite society accepted revellers drinking Champaign from a lady’s slipper, the mere sight of bare footed woman caused riots whenever they featured in plays, like Trilby.
The Paris of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901) embraced sex with a vengeance and prostitution was raised to a commercial art form. Themed bordellos prevailed with every sort of sexual variation openly catered for. There was even ‘A guide to bordellos’ booklet for the more discerning gentleman. The cost of the publication was many Francs which indicates services were favoured by the affluent.
Purely for academic interests, your intrepid reporter can report the foot lover was catered for. (Oh, the things I do in the name of research). Promiscuity was found at all levels of society and the term Le Demi Monde (morality and manners) was coined by Alexander Dumas (1855) to describe a woman whose marital infidelity or careless behaviour had cast her outside the boundaries of respectable society.
Many of the girls were actresses by day and some pretty prominent, too. The Madams such as La Paiva, Caroline Otero, and the cockney Cora Pearl became well known figures in Paris Society. Not all philosophers approved and Nietzsche and Proust were outspoken against this side of woman.
By the middle of the nineteenth century the polka piqué became extremely popular in Paris dance halls. Girls kicked their legs as high as possible and although condemned by the moralists this was loved by those interested in catching site of frothy knickers on show. A risqué version was to polka piqué with no underwear.
The quadrille naturaliste was a fairly simple dance which required a series of high kicks: the woman kicked over the heads of their partners then grasped an ankle high above their heads, dancing on one foot. The pleasure of the dance was the display of shapely legs in black stockings, lace petticoats, and perhaps a glimpse of bare thigh below the black silk knickers.
A version of the popular polka was converted a stage choreography by a soloist or more often, a group or chorus. The polka piqué combined with the quadrille naturaliste to become the Robert Macaire then the Chabut before emerging as the Can Can.
Decidedly ‘naughty’ this was a good excuse for high kicks and flashing the underwear. Can Can sans culottes was the ultimate fantasy for the lads of the time. It was a dance perhaps more notorious than evident though there is no doubt it was performed. However, rest easy the Can Can could not have taken place historically before the invention of vulcanized rubber and the introduction of elastic gussets, which to this day keeps the famous dance, respectable.
Anonymous 1996 The pretty women of Paris Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions p34
Batterberry M &A 1977 Mirror mirror: a social history New York: Holt Rinehart & Winston
Parker D & J 1975 The natural history of the chorus girl Melbourne: Landsdowne Press.
Monday, December 09, 2019
According to Ryan (2003) a t-shirt-like garment was used for millennia in Europe and has even been traced back though Roman times and on to ancient Egypt. This simple, ageless garment was the tunic, the true and most credible ancestor of the modern t-shirt. Clear depictions of it have been found in scenes carved in stone dating back at least three thousand years B.C. The tunic was such a practical and simple garment to make that its use spread throughout the civilized world, making it a standard for thousands of years. In more northern climes, sleeves were almost always long and the "shirt" itself often reached to the ground, looking less like a t-shirt of today. Back in torrid heat of Egypt, however, the short-sleeve tunic was often waist length and made of cotton or linen, appearing quite like a modern t-shirt, though much rougher in feel and appearance
The modern phenomenon is thought to have been started with sailors.
In 1913 the US Navy issued new underwear to be worn under their V-necked uniforms. The short sleeved vet had a "crew" neckline (crew neck) with a vaguely "T"-shaped silhouette (T-shirt). During the Great War, when the US soldiers (Doughboys) saw their French counterparts wearing comfortable and lightweight cotton undershirts they were envious. The French simmet was eminently suited to the hot and humid summers and compared to their woollen efforts were cooler and more comfortable. The French” T” shirts were eagerly taken back to the US as War souvenirs. "T-Shirt" become an official addition to the American English language soon after. Soon after the US armed services included the T-Shirt as standard issue underwear.
In World War II millions of serving men were issued with standard issue short sleeve, Mark 1Ts. These were based on the Navy’s newer less expensive T shirt which was called ‘skivvies’. Propaganda movies showing the GI's in their t-shirts became common fair for the home front. This flaunted dress codes and trilled the audience. The T-shirt had become by the end of the war a garment capable of displaying class, sexual orientation, and cultural affiliation. Like the high heeled sandal it was a stereotype in search of a celluloid hero.
By the time of the Korean War, millions of young men in civilian life wore t-shirts as the fashion spread to the general population of young men. T-Shirts soon were seen on the screen by earthy characters and macho types, typified by John Wayne, Marlon Brandon and James Dean. Public viewing of civilian men in their underwear shocked American audiences and when Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Stanley Kowalski in ‘A streetcar named desire’ had his t-shirt ripped from his body on national TV (1951), it was considered very risqué. By the time he appeared in the Wild One (1953), the image of Brando in a t-shirt became the icon to every juvenile delinquent. Later when James Dean wore a T shirt in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Elvis Presley appeared in his t-shirt the image was softened and became all the more popular.
By the end of the 60s girls started to wear T shirts and Jean Seberg crashed the scene of the screen in 1959 in a film called ‘A Bout de Souffle’ (Breathless). She wore a T shirt with the words ‘Herald Tribune’, emblazoned across it. There were only a few made and it quickly became very "in" among the ‘peppermint crowd’ taking the t-shirt into mainstream fashion.
By the 60s, tie dying and screen-printing techniques had improved to make basic cotton T-Shirt a fashion item with more appeal. Advances in printing and dying allowed more variety with the Tank Top, Muscle Shirt, Scoop Neck, V-Neck, and Sweatshirt all variations of the T-Shirt. Cotton T-Shirts were inexpensive and could be adjusted to reflect personal styles.
The new political awareness amongst the protesting Hippies took on the Establishment (e.g. Easy Rider -1969) and made the T-shirt the graffiti wall of clothing.
The first corporate-advertising tee was Budweiser and featured a can of Bud on the company's T-shirts. Companies gave away tees emblazoned with their corporate logos just for free advertising. Some designs such as the CND symbol and Playboy logo, became a matter of cool and hipness. Rock bands were quick to develop the souvenir Tour tee. All were avidly worn by the young ones.
Come the 70s, came the Sexual Revolution and wet tees and visibly erect nipples epitomized by Jacqueline Bisset in The Deep (1977). When t-shirt could advertise, brag, inform, shock, bewilder and exhibit whatever imagination could invent the flood gats were open and the T shirt became ubiquitous. As a blank canvas, it was limited only by imagination and technology. T shirts became throw away fashion but when professional sports caught on, market opportunities of the officially licensed T-Shirt became hot merchandise.
The T shirt was becoming too respectable until Vivian Westwood and Malcolm Maclaren set new standards of social debauchery for youth and introduced of the designer tee with sex on its mind. Enter the punk generation where absolutely everything was worn on the tee. This include food, vomit to debased slogans so beloved by the social reprobates.
No place for T shirts in the flamboyant New Romantic era but when Frankie put the ‘F’ Word on their T Shirts, the uniform of rebellious youth was back with a vengeance.
Yuppies brought gentrification and the dress conscious casuals wore designer tees by Armani where artwork symbolized the cultural and social norms. The appearance of youth with no visible means of earning, dressed in ultra expensive clothing underpinned the sinister antisocial lifestyle of the chemical generation.
Sophisticated types wore androgogenous styles, not seen since the unisex fashion of the late 60s and early 70s. No sooner had the decade started however than an anti-fashion subculture developed. Grunge reveled in neopunk and the cotton Tee shirt was back. Goths, punks, and heavy metal have all had their fair share of shocking Ts but it was the Thrashers (SK8ers) who really popularized the new wave T shirts with their association with surfie gear sold in niche stores.
French Connection UK’s logo FCUK scored across a designer T shirt scarcely raises an eyebrow.
So the T shirt has had to evolve to shock and the greatest innovation since tie dying has come via the urban graffiti artists and the Afro-American preoccupation of hip hop. Hooded tees are the perfect fashion for urban sport both for practical reasons (warmth) as well as the nefarious activities associated with the culture (preventing detection). For half a century T-shirts have never lost their ability to shock, or at least annoy.
Grey I Tee-Construction a brief history of the T-shirt
Ryan D. (2003) Short (but Authoritative) History of the T-shirt