The Navy’s uniform history stretches back centuries, covering everything from Revolutionary War-era garb to iconic World War II khakis to modern-day aquaflage. And don’t forget those dinner-dress tiaras. But while some of these seabag selections may have earned cultural prominence, one milestone isn’t as well known.
According to one manufacturer and several history books, the modern-day T-shirt will turn 100 this year, after being first issued to sailors in 1913.
The T-shirt was introduced by the Navy as a way to get sailors to cover up the chest hair revealed by their V-neck uniforms, according to the book “Elsewhere, U.S.A: How We Got from the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, BlackBerry Moms,and Economic Anxiety.”
T-Shirt Turns 100, a website run by CustomInk that’s celebrating this centennial, also states that the Navy was the first to issue the short-sleeved shirts with elastic necks to sailors. Other books and websites say the shirts were first worn by European or American soldiers during World War I, evolving from turn-of-the-1900s short-sleeved underwear tops.
Either way, if the Navy wasn’t the first, it was definitely among the first. And to celebrate the T-shirt’s military heritage, CustomInk is selling T-shirts designed by a member of each military branch every month. Because of its role in the T-shirt’s creation, Navy goes first. This shirt will be sold for the month of April, with all profits going to the Yellow Ribbon Fund, which supports veterans and their families at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Capt. (Dr.) David Tarantino designed the shirt, which says “U.S. Navy: On watch since 1775.” Tarantino received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. When a hijacked plane hit the building, he rushed toward the smoke to help survivors and lifted a large piece of debris to allow a civilian employee to escape.