What did people wear before T-shirts?

What did people wear before T-shirts?

Ever wondered what the fashion was before the emergence of the humble tee?? Before the widespread adoption of T-shirts, people wore various types of garments depending on the era, region, and social context. Here’s a look at the evolution of casual and undergarment wear that preceded the modern T-shirt:

Early Undergarments and Casual Wear

  1. Tunics:

    • Ancient Times: In ancient civilizations such as Rome and Greece, tunics were commonly worn. These were simple, often sleeveless garments made from a single piece of fabric.
    • Medieval Period: Tunics continued to be a staple, evolving in design and complexity, often worn under heavier garments.
  2. Chemises and Smocks:

    • Middle Ages to Renaissance: Men and women wore chemises or smocks under their outer garments. These were loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts made from linen or cotton, serving as the base layer to protect outer clothing from sweat and dirt.
  3. Union Suits:

    • Late 19th Century: The union suit was a one-piece garment with long sleeves and legs, typically made of wool or cotton, used as an undergarment. It was commonly worn by men for warmth and protection.

Early 20th Century Developments

  1. Undershirts:

    • Early 1900s: The concept of the undershirt began to take shape, with garments designed to be worn under military uniforms. These were usually short-sleeved or sleeveless and made from lightweight cotton.
  2. Henley Shirts:

    • Early 20th Century: The Henley shirt, characterized by its buttoned placket at the front, was popular as an undergarment and casual wear. It provided a more versatile option compared to the traditional undershirt.
  3. Button-Down Shirts:

    • Early to Mid-20th Century: Casual wear often included button-down shirts made from cotton or flannel. These were worn both as outerwear and as layers under sweaters or jackets.

Emergence of the T-Shirt

  1. 1910s: During World War I, European soldiers wore lightweight, comfortable undershirts, which American troops adopted. This led to the U.S. Navy issuing them as standard undershirts.

  2. 1920s: The T-shirt began to gain popularity outside the military as an undergarment. It was simple, comfortable, and easy to produce.

  3. 1950s: Post-World War II, the T-shirt emerged as casual outerwear, popularized by Hollywood actors like Marlon Brando and James Dean. This shift marked the T-shirt's transition from an undergarment to a staple of casual fashion.


Before T-shirts became ubiquitous, people wore a variety of garments such as tunics, chemises, smocks, union suits, and undershirts. These garments evolved over time, influenced by changes in fashion, practicality, and the needs of different eras. The T-shirt, initially an undergarment, eventually emerged as a key piece of casual attire, influenced by military use and popular culture.

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