Time spent completing an MSc in Journalism at Northwestern University, Chicago, honed my editing and copyediting skills while giving me an in-depth grasp of both the creative and pragmatic aspects of the media industry. Although I specialised in magazine journalism -in particular longform non-fiction writing- I also paid my dues in the local politics beat before learning to mould stories into the pith of business reporting.
Understanding the t-shirt’s rise to hamper heavyweight means threading through its history, a narrative seamed to hallmarks of the 20th century. The simple ‘tee’ began life in military servitude in 1913 when the U.S. Navy issued white crewneck shirts to be worn under uniforms. In 1920, the t-shirt officially entered American vernacular via the dictionary: a collarless short-sleeved or sleeveless usually cotton undershirt; also: an outer shirt of similar design. Sweat-soaked mud swamped clinging to the backs of novice men belly down gun in hand the tee had been there through it all: as the century turned, as the Navy ruled, as Europe imploded, as the Pacific wore Johnny down. In 1932, the University of Southern California started printing ‘Property of USC’ on their football team’s undershirts, and students started to steal them. The shirt was getting vogue. The tee was further ingrained into college culture when it jumped from the GIs to their campuses (thank you, Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944). By then, the rising star had also found itself in the bright spotlights of Hollywood marketing. As The Wizard of Oz premiered in 1939 so too did the first promotional tee. A decade on politicos in Washington, ever the early adopters, brought the t-shirt slogan to anti-Truman festivities with the inspiring alliteration ‘Dew-it-with-Dewey’ (a sure blow to the cool factor). Back in California the t-shirt rose to sex symbol on the muscles of silver screen dreamboats –James Dean and his white tee, a fashion-forward rebel, joining Marlon Brando whose torn top wore Stella to distraction. The sixties were an age to remember for our cotton hero, and here our story meets its apex. Bass pumping, flower throwing power tie-dyed uniform of a different kind, fume-stoked daze in the grunge of Woodstock raving before taking to the streets for a round of bra burning. From unshaven underarms to unaffordable boutiques of trendy labels, the 60s and 70s were the real launch of this classic American –you can part a sea of tees on the sidewalk when the mercury rises. It is one of our most enduring love affairs.
Excerpt from ‘The Laundry Artist’ August 2013.
Copyright Victoria Yates.
Click the links below to read examples of my published work.