A custom T-shirt (or custom tee shirt) is a shirt which is pulled on over the head to cover most of a person's torso. A custom t-shirt is usually buttonless, collarless, and pocketless, with a round neck and short sleeves. The sleeves of a custom t-shirt extend at least slightly over the shoulder but not completely over the elbow (in short-sleeve version). A custom tshirt that is either longer or shorter than this ceases to be a custom t-shirt. Custom t-shirts are typically made of cotton or polyester fibers (or a mix of the two), knitted together in a jersey stitch that gives a custom T-shirt its distinctive soft texture. Custom t-shirts can be decorated with text and/or pictures, and are sometimes used to advertise. A tag-less custom t-shirt was invented by Charles Bevington which is now used on any article of clothing.
Custom tee shirt fashions include styles for men and women, and for all age groups, including baby, youth, and adult sizes. Many youths wear custom t-shirts; they are great protection from the sun and useful for all wears, but the main reason being the fashion.
The origin of a custom t-shirt is obscure. The custom shirt has been a part of clothing since ancient Egypt, consequently, there have been many garments which resemble a custom t-shirt. A type of custom cotton shirt was developed in England around 1880 as a form of underwear to be worn under men's custom t-shirts. It was originally called a "vest" or "under-vest". From 1913 to 1948 there was continuous development. Most research mentions the possibility that the idea of the custom t-shirt came to the United States during World War II when US soldiers noticed the light cotton undershirts European soldiers were using while the US soldiers were sweating in their wool uniforms. Since they were much more comfortable they quickly became popular among the Americans, and because of their custom design they got the name custom tee. Other experts credit the U.S. Navy's "light undershirt" from 1913, called a "crew neck". The Los Angeles Times claimed in 2006 that the Navy custom t-shirt as described in 1913's regulations state that the "light undershirt" was different from what is commonly worn today, with the Navy's version boasting an "elastic collaret on the neck opening" and other odd features.
On these grounds, there are claims that Howard Jones asked the underwear company "Jockey" in 1932 to develop a sweat absorbing custom t-shirt for the USC Trojans football team, which they propose was the "modern custom t-shirt".
The origin of the name is uncertain: it may refer to the shape of the custom tshirt as a "T", or it may derive from the use by the army as a "training shirt". The shape-based theory is supported by the existence of an A-shirt in the 1930s, which was the typical undershirt later referred to as a tank top.
During World War II the custom t-shirt had become standard issue underwear in the U.S. Army and the Navy. Although the custom t-shirt was formally underwear, soldiers often used it without a shirt covering it while doing heavy labor or while stationed in locations with a hot climate, just like their former underwear. As a result, the public was frequently exposed to pictures of members of the armed forces wearing pants and a custom t-shirt. This became gradually more acceptable, as the cover of the July 13, 1942 issue of Life magazine shows, which features a picture of a soldier wearing a custom t-shirt with the text "Air Corps Gunnery School".
After WWII custom t-shirts started appearing without a shirt covering it in civilian life. According to the New York Times, the 1948 presidential campaign of New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey produced a "Dew It for Dewey" custom t-shirt, which was followed in 1952 by "I Like Ike" custom t-shirts in support of Dwight D. Eisenhower. John Wayne, Marlon Brando and James Dean all wore them on national TV. At first the public was shocked, but by 1955 it became acceptable.
Custom t-shirts were originally worn as undershirts. Now custom t-shirts are worn frequently as the only piece of clothing on the top half of the body -other than possibly a bra or an undershirt (vest). Custom t shirts have also become a medium for self-expression and advertising, with any imaginable combination of words, art and even photographs on display.
A custom t-shirt typically extends to the waist. Variants of the custom t-shirt, like the tank top, A-shirt (with the nickname "wife beater"), muscle shirt, scoop neck, and the V-neck have been developed. Hip hop fashion calls for "tall-T" custom T-shirts which may extend down to the knees. A more recent trend in women's clothing involves tight-fitting "cropped" custom t-shirts that are short enough to reveal the midriff. Another popular trend is wearing a "long-sleeved custom T-shirt", then putting a short sleeved custom T-shirt of a different color over the long sleeved custom t-shirt. This is known as "layering".
In the early 1950s several companies started to decorate custom t-shirts with different resort names and various characters. Other companies expanded into the custom T-shirt printing business. In 1959, plastisol, a more durable and stretchable ink, was invented, allowing much more variety in custom T-shirt designs.
In the 1960s, the custom ringer tee shirt appeared and became a staple fashion for youth and rock-n-rollers. The decade also saw the emergence of tie-dyeing and custom screen-printing on the basic custom T-shirt. The most common form of commercial T-shirt decoration is custom screen-printing. In custom screen-printing, a design is separated into individual colors. Plastisol or water based inks are applied to the shirt through mesh screens which limits the areas where ink is deposited. In most commercial T-shirt printing, the specific colors in the design are used. To achieve a wider color spectrum with a limited number of colors, process printing (using only cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink) or simulated process (using only white, black, red, green, blue, and gold ink) is effective. Process printing is best suited for light colored shirts. Simulated process is best suited for dark colored shirts. Very few companies continue to use water-based inks on their custom designed shirts. The majority of other companies that create custom apparel prefer to use plastisol due to the ability to print on varying colors without the need for color adjustment at the art level.
Specialty inks trend in and out of fashion and include; shimmer, puff, discharge and chino based inks. A metallic foil can be heat pressed and stamped onto any plastisol ink. When combined with shimmer ink, metallics give a mirror like effect wherever the previously screened plastisol ink was applied. Specialty inks are more expensive to purchase as well as screen and tend to appear on custom garments in boutiques.
Other methods of decoration used on custom tshirts include airbrush, applique, custom embroidery, impressing or embossing and the ironing on of either flock lettering, heat transfers, or dye-sublimation transfers. Laser printers are capable of printing on plain paper using a special toner containing sublimation dyes which can then be permanently heat-transferred to custom T-shirts.
In the 1980s, thermo chromatic dyes were used to produce custom t-shirts that changed color when subjected to heat. This brand of custom t shirt, Global Hyper color, was a common sight on the streets of the UK for a few years, but has since mostly disappeared. These were very popular in the United States as well in the late 80's among teens. A downside of color-change garments is that the dyes can easily be damaged, especially by washing in warm water, or dye other clothes during washing.
At the turn of the century, designing custom T-shirts online became more popular. Popular websites began to use custom digital printing (such as Direct to Garment or DTG printing) to allow customers to design their own custom T-shirts online with no minimum orders. In the beginning, DTG could not print well on dark garments; however, with the help of some online T-Shirt retailers, custom printer manufacturers such as T-Jet have all but perfected the process, providing consumers with many more printing options.
Throughout the 1980s and ever since in Japan, custom T-shirts have flourished as a personal expression.
Custom tee shirts with bold slogans were popular in the UK in the 1980s.
Since the late 1980s and especially the 1990s, custom t-shirts with prominent custom designer-name logos have become popular, especially with teenagers and young adults. These garments allow consumers to flaunt their taste for custom designer brands in an inexpensive way, in addition to being decorative. Examples of custom designer t-shirt branding include Calvin Klein, FUBU, Ralph Lauren and The Gap. These examples also include representations of rock bands, among other obscure pop-culture references.
Custom screen printed t-shirts have been a standard form of product advertising for major consumer products, such as Coca-cola and Mickey Mouse, since the 1970s. However, since the 1990s, it has become common practice for companies of all sizes to produce custom T-shirts with their corporate logos or messages as part of their overall advertising campaigns.
The early 2000s saw the renewed popularity of custom T-shirts with custom slogans and custom designs with a strong inclination to the humorous and/or ironic. The trend has only increased later in this decade; embraced by celebrities, such as Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, and reflected back on them, too ('Team Aniston').
The political and social statements that custom T-shirts often display have become, since the 2000s, one of the reasons that they have so deeply permeated different levels of culture and society. The statements also may be found to be offensive, shocking or pornographic to some. Many different organizations have caught on to the statement-making trend, including chain and independent stores, websites, and schools.
A popular phrase on the front of custom T-shirts demonstrating custom T-shirts' popularity among tourists is the humorous phrase "I did _____ and all I got was this lousy custom T-shirt." Custom T-shirt exchange is an activity where people trade their custom T-shirts they are wearing. Some custom designs specifically write on the custom shirt "trade with me".