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Sex, work, and democracy together advanced the T-shirt as a clothing icon of the late twentieth century. Until the 1940s, the T-shirt was exclusively an undershirt. Sailors, however, in shipboard fraternity, worked in T-shirts. These World War II, T-shirted heroes appeared in Life Magazine (cover, Life, July 13, 1942) and cavorted in the musical South Pacific. The private world was now public, and the undershirt entered society, sometimes with the renegade image of Marlon Brando, other times with the innocent white shirt of James Dean. The T-shirt would not have the authority of the cut-and-sewn shirt with collar until the 1980s when Bruce Springsteen reinforced the T-shirt's proletarian roots but also identified the T-shirt with the new 1980s masculinity of sex-object, gym-built male bodies.

—Richard Martin

Further Reading:

Harris, Alice. The White T. New York, Harper Collins, 1996.