Military tees are just the latest manifestation of the love affair between consumers and all things military when it comes to clothing. Brands like Ranger Up, Gadsden and Culpeper, and Ramrod are cashing in on this craze for military inspired pants, shirts, boots, hats, and accessories, and their bottom line makes Wall Street want to stand up straight and salute. On college campuses across the land the fashion conscious are lining up to get into the ROTC military programs — not because they particularly want to go fight the foe overseas, but because they get a clothing allowance and access to exclusive military uniforms and insignia that are off limits to civilians.
Military t-shirts are so hot nowadays that online merchants literally cannot keep up with the demand. The standard Army brown t-shirt — a staple for American soldiers since World War Two — is so popular among the high school crowd on the West Coast that school administrators are banning the wearing of it in some urban areas because of the insane prices teenagers are paying for an authentic Pentagon Brown Tee — up to two hundred dollars for a lightweight cotton tee that costs two dollars down at the PX. Of course the graphics involved in the latest military tees are cutting edge, as well. Nobody under the age of forty ever wears a tee without a message and/or graphic on it. To do so proclaims to the whole world just one thing: THIS IS MIDDLE AGE.
Here’s a brief look at how the whole thing got started, and where it’s likely to go:
The whole crew-necked short sleeved undershirt thing began shortly after the Spanish-American War in 1898. Up until then America’s fighting men had always worn long johns, or Union Suits as they were known in the Civil War — since Southerners were considered too poor and uncultured to even know what underwear was.
The new undershirt, when hung out to dry, looked like the letter ‘T’ and so that’s how it got its current appellation of t-shirt. The original color of the standard issue undershirts for Marines was dark green — the generals figured it would be good camouflage for the steamy jungles of the Philippines — where Uncle Sam was bogged down in a dirty little war with the Philippine people, who didn’t like American soldiers taking over from their former Spanish overlords. Since most Marines immediately shed their uniform coats and shirts the minute they landed in Manila, the t-shirts were designed with a pocket, so soldiers could at least carry written orders, or a small Bible, with them into the jungle battle zone.
Both the Army and the Navy attempted to ban tattoos during the 1920s, and that’s when soldiers and sailors began stenciling lewd graphics and profane sayings onto their tees. The birth, in other words, of “I’m With Stupid.”
Today the military tee is worn to both casual and formal affairs in North America and in Europe. It is still considered rather trashy at a formal affair in, say, Singapore or Beijing. But the comfort and convenience of the military themed tee is conquering the conservative fashion enclaves on a massive scale, and Asia is not going to be able to hold out much longer.