The printed t-shirt is so much a part of modern life that most people don’t stop to consider its history. Printed t-shirts, however, did not just fall out of the sky; they came into existence through impressive technological innovations. The garment itself was originally intended to be a man’s undergarment, to be worn under his military uniform or suit. Soldiers and sailors serving during WWII would frequently wear nothing but a shirt and their uniform trousers when off-duty or during especially hot or dirty work days. The t-shirt as a stand-alone garment gained popularity among civilians in the years following the war.
Textile printing has a much longer history than the t-shirt. The oldest and most time-consuming method of textile printing is woodblock printing. This dates to 3rd century China and relies on a relief design carved into a block of wood, which is then dipped into ink and pressed onto the fabric. Other less labor-intensive techniques were developed during the Renaissance and through the Industrial Revolution.