Lots of companies sell T-shirts. And lots of U.S. states — probably about 50 of them (and 14 territories) — have their names on them. So what makes State Forty Eight’s Arizona T-shirts unique among all those other hundreds of thousands of tees?
Maybe it’s because our state got there first.
Could we be saying that Arizona, the 48th of all 50 U.S. states, is actually the home of the very first true T-shirt?
Sure. Why not.
You would think that as simple a piece of clothing as a T-shirt is, they’ve been around forever. But they haven’t. Of course, they started off as men’s (never women’s) underwear. What they didn’t start off as was … shirts.
Back in the mid- to late-1800s, men’s underwear was one piece, neck to ankle, with buttons all the way up the front and a button-closed flap in the rear that could be used for (in addition to at least one other very important function) comedic value in many 20th-century animated cartoons. This garment became known as the union suit.
Fun fact No. 1: Despite the time period when this innovative but fashion-challenged item came about, the name “union suit” didn’t have anything to do with the Army of the North during the Civil War. Instead, it created a “union” between the top and bottom items of women’s underwear at the time. Yes, that’s right …
Fun fact No. 2: The union suit was created for women; part of the Victorian dress reform movement in which crusaders fought to make women’s clothing not quite so ridiculously impractical. But the union suit proved so practical and comfortable that apparently, some husbands were sneaking into their wive’s drawers and … stealing their wive’s drawers, stretching them all out of shape. So manufacturers started marketing them to men, too — the first nonbinary underwear!
Union suits were particularly popular with working men: cowboys, miners, railroad workers. They didn’t ride up. They didn’t slide down. They just stayed there. Under. They were so practical, in fact, that …
Not-so-fun fact: Many 19th-century working men rarely took off their union suits. No need to wash your underwear if you keep it on for your monthly bath, right? There’s at least one story of a man whose leg hair grew through the suit and got so matted he had to be cut out of it during a medical emergency.
Ewww. Get back to Arizona T-shirts.
Right. So the biggest disadvantage to the union suit was it could get hot. And some workmen started separating the union — cutting the top part away from the bottoms. During the summer they would wear the top part as underwear, and … it’s not clear what they wore below, but we don’t care and we don’t judge.
Sometime around the turn of the century, when weaving technology improved and manufacturers could leave off the buttons, the T-shirt became its own thing. The U.S. Navy started issuing them as standard equipment undershirts, and they gradually worked their way outward to take on a new, though only blank, role. The grandaddy of the printed T-shirt we know today was born in 1948 when presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey gave away “Dew-It-With Dewey” campaign T-shirts — a slogan made even more pathetic when he lost to Franklin Roosevelt, who actually did it and didn’t have to give away any clothing.
But, back to our 19th-century timeline: Hot climate. Working men. Cowboys. Miners. Railroad workers. All things that the booming Arizona territory of the 1800s had more of than any other state. So it must be true that …
Arizona tee shirts started it all.
And we encourage you to celebrate this extraordinary contribution with us. What could do more to honor the most beloved item of clothing in the world — the T-shirt — than to wear one that proudly pays tribute to the state that gave it to the world: a true Arizona T-shirt.
Of course, nobody makes Arizona tee shirts like the company named for the 48th state. And we’re proud that every item in State Forty Eight’s collection of Arizona tee shirts does justice to both the noble Tee, and the grand state in which it was born.
It’s all right there: A top-quality shirt. A bold portrait of Arizona on the front. And our name — State Forty Eight. Your home for the spirit of the shirt that changed the world.
Thank you, Arizona.