With the meteoric rise of military-lifestyle apparel brands like Grunt Style and Ranger Up over the last decade, the veteran tee niche is hotter than a .50 cal barrel in the hands of an ROTC cadet.
There are literally hundreds of graphic t-shirt companies out there competing for the attention and hard earned dollars of the active duty and veterans communities (yes, full-disclosure..we are one of them). And while we offer our sincerest apologies for saturating your Facebook Newsfeed with ads touting our unique take on veteran t-shirts, we thought the least we could do was arm you with some cool info to share the next time you find yourself standing by to stand by.
So it turns out that the United States Military is to thank for more than just PT belts, cool songs you can sing while running, and tightly-made beds. Yep, you can thank Uncle Sam for the rise of the graphic t-shirt as a staple in the drawers of the modern American wardrobe, and here's how it happened:
U.S. Navy, early 1900's-ish.
On the heels of the Spanish-American War, the United States Navy began issuing crew-necked, short-sleeved undershirts to sailors and Marines to be worn under their uniforms. The new style was a modified version of the 'Union Suit' (pictured below) that some friggin' genius had created with a pair of scissors and a dream (get that guy an Army Achievement Medal).
Nicknamed 'T' shirts because of their obvious resemblance in shape to the letter 'T', the shirts became popular among the men who found doing bullshit details while wearing them was at least more comfortable than doing bullshit details while in full uniform, especially in the crazy hot 'what the hell are we even doing down here?' climates.
Once the Army and other branches caught wind of the super-smiley and highly-motivated sailors and Marines whistlin' while they worked over on their ships, they were quick to adapt the t-shirt as a part of their uniform as well. The t-shirt phenomenon had even caught on in the U.S. by the Great Depression as ranchers and farmers began to wear them as a daily work uniform.
Post World War II-ish.
As the Greatest Generation was re-entering into civvy life, they brought back not only war trophies and exotic venereal diseases from the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific, but their affinity for t-shirts as well. It was during this post-war era that the t-shirt began to catch on in mainstream America as more than just something you wore while sweating your nuts off, it became a style.
It was not uncommon to see veterans and 'flat-footed' (I swear!) civilians rocking plain white tees, leather jackets, and blue jeans as they rolled across America in their custom rods and Harley's in the lead up to the iconic 'greaser' style made popular by Marlon Brando's character, Stanley Kowalski in 1951's A Streetcar Named Desire:
The First Printed T-Shirt-ish.
The printed graphic t-shirt as we know it today was still decades away from adoption into mainstream culture when a photo of Corporal Alexander Le Gerda wearing a t-shirt decorated with an Air Corps Gunnery School design was featured on the cover of Life magazine in July of 1942:
Holding a .30 cal and rocking a schmedium tee, Corporal Le Gerda instantly become the poster boy for the American graphic t-shirt, representing the first person to be featured in mass media wearing a printed shirt and spawning the graphic tee movement which exploded in the '60's and 70's.
Surely Corporal Le Gerda had no way of knowing at the time that he was to become the grandfather of military apparel and graphic tees in general as he hauled that .30 cal in his 'tighter than Sergeant Major's fade' tee. Had he known that that one simple photo would lead to some of the most horrendous military-themed tees ever produced and sold by PX's around the globe, he may have refused to pose for the pic.
There's no doubt about it, without the military there would be no t-shirts, and without Corporal Le Gerda, there would be no graphic tees. So the next time you see an ad from a military-lifestyle apparel brand pop up in your newsfeed, think of Corporal Le Gerda and ask yourself 'WWLD: What would Le Gerda Do?'
If it was an Inkfidel tee like our remake of the tee he made famous (pictured below), he would have definitely ordered one - In a schmedium, of course.
We hope you enjoyed the read, please let us know what you think in the comments below, and click 'Share' to drop a knowledge-bomb on another Vet.
NOEL SANCHEZ says...
Man… That would be so awesome if this t-shirt design on Life Magazine was made. I would so buy one!
On Nov 22, 2018
Dave Gustafson says...
Loved this article when I first saw it a while back. Remembered it when I came across an image of a couple of Seabees on Tarawa with custom graphic t-shirts (saved the image). Thinking that they would be close to the end of the war, so newer than the air corps shirt but interesting anyway because the idea was spreading.
On Oct 08, 2018
Cody Paulson says...
Are you guys not selling shirts anymore? Am I just stupid and missing them?
On Sep 06, 2018
Dave Hall says...
Echoing Mr. Solberg’s comment, I would also love to see that Air Corps Gunnery School tee shirt, as my father graduated from that school in 1943! I’d buy at least 4, one for myself, and one for my siblings! (Great blog post, by the way!)
On Mar 26, 2018
Josiah Solberg says...
Ladies and Gents of Inkfidel,
Please make the Gunner School t-shirt in the picture!
I guarantee that you’ll sell tens of them! I’ll buy 3, guaranteed!
Josiah “Josey” Solberg
USAF Aerial Gunner, (Ret)
On Feb 12, 2018