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May 10, 2022

Evolution Of Sports T-Shirts

Sports T-shirts are quite popular these days, especially for fans and collectors. If you’re curious about how sports shirts have evolved, read on here.

It’s not surprising to find a sports shirt in your typical personal wardrobe these days. Some love to wear them because they’re huge fans of a sport, some use them as activewear because they are so comfortable to wear, and there are even some who collect vintage and authentic jerseys because those are quite rare and expensive. For these reasons, sports T-shirts are some of the most sought-after types of clothes in the world.

Exactly how sports T-shirts evolved through the years is something that not many people think much about. Although there is an interest in authentic vintage sportswear, its actual origins are still a mystery for most people. To shed some light on the matter, here is a quick rundown of the rich history of sports T-shirts.

1. The First Years Of The T-Shirt

Talking about the evolution of the sports T-shirt won’t be complete without talking about the origins of the T-shirt itself. The origin of this practical and unisex piece of clothing can be traced all the way back to the Middle Ages, when it was mainly used as a type of undergarment to keep outer garments from touching the body. While there were new tech and textile choices by the 19th century, the purpose of the t-shirt remained the same and was still mostly worn as an undergarment. (2)

2. When T-Shirts Were First Used For Sports

By the 20th century, the T-shirt industry has become even more successful due to mass production, but the T-shirt itself was still mostly considered as men’s underwear.  Things changed when the 1930’s rolled in, when it became the standard issue for college sportsmen. (2)

Thanks to a popular American retail company advertising it as both an undershirt and outer shirt for men, the T-shirt was finally accepted as a piece of outerwear. Not only that, the company also specified that it was great both as something to wear for lounging about and for sports-related activities. (2)

3. Screen Printing And Sports T-Shirt Memorabilia 

Most people prefer participating in physical activities wearing a comfortable shirt or jersey. However, there are sports T-shirts in the market which are considered to be memorabilia, especially vintage and limited-edition ones. Exactly when this started can be attributed to the emergence of screen printing back in the mid 1950’s. (1)

Before screen printing, manufacturers had to embroider the design or even paint it on textile. However, the quality of finished products made with these methods isn’t consistent, making it hard to mass produce sports t-shirts. Screen printing is way more effective and consistent, making it possible to print just about any logo or name of a sports team.

4. Jerseys For Everyone

Before the 1980s, sports jerseys weren’t widely available to the public. Some could get them custom-made, but other than that, there were mostly plain jerseys. However, jerseys that had the official logo and name of sports teams weren’t commercially available. 

When the 80’s rolled in, official sports team jerseys started getting sold in retail stores. This is thanks to a new heat transfer printing process called ‘Viinflex,’ which made it easier to make better prints, which included lettering and numbering. (1)

Even the process of using T-shirts as freebies saw some fun changes. In the 1990s, Tim Derk invented the T-shirt cannon for the San Antonio Spurs. Derk wore a giant coyote costume and launched free custom t-shirts to the crowd at the AT&T Center. Because of this, more people get free sports shirts at sports events whenever the T-shirt cannon is used. (1)

5. The Famous Millennium Man T-Shirt 

Despite being common pieces of clothing today, there are many sports T-shirt designs that stood out and became iconic. This might be due to design, branding, or even representing a prestigious event. A famous sports shirt is the one designed with the millennium man.

This shirt was for one of the biggest sports events in the world, the Olympics. So it makes sense for the official shirt, design, and logo to be iconic. This is why the 2000 Summer Olympics featured the “Millenium Man,” which was actually created by a designer and architect named Michael Bryce. (1) (2)

The design itself was quite colorful, and also included the Sydney Opera House, which also doubled as the smoke from the torch. The man also had boomerangs for limbs, making it a great reference for the Australian culture. (3)

6. Sports T-Shirts And Iconic Events In Sports History

Some sports T-shirts are heavily tied to big milestones in the history of their respective sport. For example, The Philadelphia Eagles won in 2018 for the first time in Super Bowl history. With such a memorable event, it makes sense for a lot of people to show their pride and support by buying their merchandise. Demand for Philadelphia Eagles merch boomed, with fans buying hats, t-shirts, and hoodies with the phrase ‘Fly Eagles Fly’ printed right on it. (1)

Conclusion

Official commercialized T-shirt merch only started becoming available in the 1980s. Today, sports T-shirts are now some of the common clothing pieces you could have in your wardrobe. Thanks to advancements in printing technology, anyone can easily have a t-shirt of their favorite sports team, whether it’s for showing their support, a desire to add something new to their collection, or just something comfy to wear.

References: 

  1. ” What is the History of Sports Memorabilia? A Story of Bobbleheads, Jerseys, & T-Shirt Cannons,” Source: https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/promo-university/history-of-sports-merchandise.htm 
  2. ” Everything to know about the history of the T-shirt,” Source: https://www.vogue.com.au/fashion/trends/everything-to-know-about-the-history-of-the-tshirt/image-gallery/65641e7e0e07560fceb738db1e973e7a 
  3. ” Sydney Olympics 2000,” Source: https://historyandheritage.cityofparramatta.nsw.gov.au/research-topics/events/sydney-olympics-2000