May 24, 2013
By PHIL HUGO
I stood on the concourse of the mostly empty Stroh Center at Bowling Green State University and gave the apparel on display a cursory look. Hats, T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, all emblazoned with a man’s name and various images of him and his music. My wife, Karen, made mention of a long-sleeved shirt off in the corner.
Then I heard a voice. “Folks, if you’re going to buy something you’ll need to hurry because we have to get this packed up.” I turned and saw a young woman who was part of the event security team.
If I was contemplating a purchase, she made the decision for me. I would not be rushed into a decision to buy a shirt. On this night, Bob Dylan would get no more of our hard-earned money, beyond what he got from the tickets we purchased.
Besides, I don’t really need another T-shirt. My dresser drawers practically overfloweth with said shirts. Sometimes I need to push down on them so I can close a drawer.
Warm weather is gifting us with its presence which means I’ve switched from long-sleeved flannel garments to T-shirts or, as they are sometimes referred to, tees. They are standard fare for me, be it for work or casual dress. It has to do with comfort, although I would like to believe it’s about my looking like Marlon Brando wearing a tight fitting white T-shirt in “A Streetcar Named Desire” or Paul Newman flexing his T-shirted body in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
Maybe I need to get to the weight room.
I don’t see myself pumping iron anytime soon, but I did peck at the computer keyboard to see what the annals of history have to say about T-shirts. It’s more interesting than you might suspect.
That designer tee you purchased at Nieman Marcus or the work version you were given by the folks at your local Do it center have their origin in 19th century Europe. Folks decided to modify the “union suit” underwear by cutting it into two pieces, making a top and bottom. Apparently workers felt they would be more comfortable wearing such clothing in hot environments.
By the 20th century, lightweight cotton became the fabric of choice for T-shirts and that’s when the garment was discovered by U.S. servicemen stationed in Europe. It didn’t take long for T-shirts and the comfort they offered to become, if not de rigueur, at the least, functional clothing for military personnel.
The Navy adopted the white, crew-necked, short-sleeved shirt, known as an undershirt, as standard issue in 1913. So here’s the question for trivia buffs. Why did the Navy adopt the T-shirt? You would be correct if you said to cover the sailors’ chest hair when they wore overalls. Such modesty.
Time, or in this case, T-shirts, march on, whether they are worn under crisp military uniforms or as functional or fashionable outerwear.
The first printed T-shirts came on the scene in the late ‘40s. If you go to the Smithsonian Institution, you might want to look up the shirt that reads, “Dew-It with Dewey.” The T-shirt was part of New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey’s 1948 presidential campaign.
Through the ‘50s and ‘60s, entrepreneurs began to see the potential for T-shirts as a means to advertise products or causes. Walking billboards were becoming a fixture on the landscape. Methods of putting a long lasting message on the fabric were also being developed.
As time went on, tees became a staple item in people’s wardrobes, no matter the country they lived in. So it is with me.
Open my dresser drawers, and you’ll find a collection of tees with varied colors and messages. Some evoke memories of places I’ve been, like Seattle and Camden, Maine.
I don’t own a Dylan T-shirt but I wear Simon and Garfunkel and several Pickle’s Blues Extravaganza shirts.
I’m not big on sports so I have no T-shirts touting favorite teams. Oh, wait a minute. I do have a Nebraska Cornhuskers football championship shirt somewhere in the mix. I hear there are a couple of boxing gyms in Lima but I wonder if anyone has ever heard of the Mad Dog Bates Boxing Gym. I think it was run by some guy named Brian. That shirt could be a collector’s item.
Everyone should have a T-shirt with special meaning. Mine was designed by my nephew Nick Hugo to help commemorate the 100th anniversary of Hugo Plumbing and Heating back in 1994.
I don’t own a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, but I live my fantasy by wearing several Harleys. We all have a little wannabe in us, right?
I wear shirts that advertise products I use in my work, like lumber, nails and paint. And when they wear out, I use them as rags. All used, one way or another in a day’s work.
And if I feel like tying one on after a hard day, I might wear the blue tee that advertises a certain vodka. That way I can wear as much vodka as I want and not worry about an OVI citation.
So let’s raise a glass to the T-shirt and the letter it resembles. A shirt that has covered many a torso over time and does not appear as if it will fade from the scene anytime soon, even if its message does fade on occasion.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna listen to some Dylan while I rearrange the T-shirts in my dresser.