How Funny T-Shirts went from Novelty to Normal
100 years ago, if you had said websites like ours were a natural evolution of the T-shirt, people would have looked at you like you were crazy. For starters, no one back then knew what a website was. But more to the point, T-shirts were undergarments. Who cared what they looked like?
But then they were something Marlon Brando wore to demonstrate that yes, he did indeed work out. Then something you wore when you wanted to watch football and gun down Buffalo wings while also demonstrating that you absolutely did not work out.
But even as they evolved, who would have thought they would reach the point where they were chances for people to disdainfully make fun of other social groups or call back to a joke that only 10% of society would get? And not only that, but that tons of people would wear them? Being a humor T-shirt site, that’s the step of the evolution that interested us. So we decided to cover just how it happened.
(We’re also curious how we got to the place where Kanye West was teaming up with a fashion designer and selling a blank shirt for $120. And then how that shirt that looks eerily similar to something you could get at Target for 6.50 ended up selling like crazy. But we knew this would only lead to our heads exploding).
This is called “Hip Hop Shirt” which somehow actually convinced people this was something other than an undershirt.
The ’40s and ’50s were when businesses realized they could charge people for the right to wear shirts that were essentially advertisements for said businesses, and so they started putting their logos on them. Over time, T-shirts evolved, often in ways that reflected the sentiment of the times. For example, in the 60s, tie-dye and Che Guevera T-shirts came into existence. You know the ones…
You’ve either seen this or a T-shirt trying to ape off of this that is so similar you can’t tell the difference. Now, as we say this, you’re not sure which that T-shirt was that you saw last week.
And what’s more 1960s than political dissension and colors that look really cool on LSD?
Over the next few decades, there was a build in how much shirts were used to express the fact that you liked a particular band or political movement or soft drink, while still seeing them reflect the times they were in.
So it made sense that the ’90’s – the era of ironic chillness – would see an explosion in the most ironically chill item imaginable: ironic T-shirts. Joke shirts started popping up like “I’m with Stupid” which apparently was funny at some point in our history.
We’d say you had to be there, except we were there and even then it wasn’t very funny.
As with all things, celebrity and business pushed these trends along. The former realized they could score points with fans if they did funny things with shirts.
As for the entertainment industry, they got savvier with their shirts. They realized that fans of certain movies would love to wear shirts that almost no one else gets, but if you pass a guy who’s seen the movie it’s in reference to, there’s a really good chance he’ll give you an approving look and possibly even a high five at a bar, which is about the pinnacle of life.
So that brings us to 2014, where we seem more inclined than ever before to tell people how we feel. What we’re thinking. Right now. And in concise and humorous a way as possible. For example, just look at… every website in the world. Twitter, Facebook, instagram. Or look at apps like Snapchat.
T-shirts reflect the era they are a part of, and in 2014 that means they are an opportunity to wear your status update on your chest.
But T-shirts in 2014 are a part of their era in another way too. The Internet has allowed anyone who can afford a screen printer to open an online T-shirt shop. This means more ideas and more jokes are at your fingertips. Just as millions of cable channels and websites and podcasts have given people the opportunity to find the content that appeals to their exact tastes, this availability of clothing allows people to find the jokes that perfectly resonate with their sense of humor.
More competition, more ideas, more jokes. We would say we are in a golden age of funny T-shirts if that sentence didn’t sound so over-the-top. But it’s true.