Walk down the street and you’d be hard pressed not to see at least one person (if not more) wearing a T-shirt. While the T-shirt has been and continues to be a popular fashion staple, it wasn’t always that way.

In fact, according to Gizmodo, it’s only been worn as an outer garment for about 50 years. Yet, despite its relatively short past, it’s powerful – used as a canvas for social change, expressing individuality, and even just representing your favorite band. That being said, read on to find out more about some of the most famous T-shirts of all time.

1. That Smiley Face Shirt

Like the T-shirt, the smiley face is only a recent addition to the logo world. The classic smiley face first made its entrance in the 1970s.

Composed of a simple circle with two dots and a semi-circular lie underneath, according to The Guardian, the smiley face was meant to represent happiness, sun, and the spring.

Since then, the smiley face has changed – from its classic design to the mud-splattered logo in Forrest Gump to the stick-your-tongue-out Nirvana logo.

2. The Peace Sign Isn’t Just Associated with the Hippies

Contrary to what some may think, there’s more to the peace sign than being a favorite among hippies. The iconic sign was created in 1958 by British Artist, Gerald Holtom for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

While some have gone so far to attribute the peace sign as a secret symbol for anti-Christianity, in reality the symbol is made up of the overlapping letters, “N” and “D” (which most likely stand for nuclear disarmament since the sign was to be used during the campaign’s first march).

From Nuclear Disarmament to Symbol of French Solidarity and Strength

After the Paris terrorist attacks, French graphic designer, Jean Jullien combined the peace sign and Eiffel tower, creating the now-famous “Peace for Paris” symbol.

Within 24 hours of Jullien posting it on social media, the design went viral and has been used on banners and t-shirts to show solidarity and strength.

3. Your Favorite Vintage Band T-Shirt

While this isn’t a specific t-shirt per se, band t-shirts have been a heavy influence in the fashion and music industries, most notably vintage, personalized t-shirts.

With the red band logo contrasted against the black background combined with the iconic creative font, the AC/DC shirt is perhaps one of the most famous classic rock t-shirts of all time. And then, according to GQ, you also have to include the blue and black ZZ Top tee, not to mention the iconic Tupac 90s shirt – both t-shirts with creative fonts.

4. Rosie the Riveter: More Than a Propaganda Icon

You’ve seen this fictional female character on posters, banners, and shirts. With her fist raised, polka-dot bandana wrapped around her head, and a determined look in her eyes, Rosie the Riveter stands as (arguably) the biggest symbol of the women’s movement.

However, this wasn’t intentional. The character was originally created during World War II for a propaganda campaign run by the US government to convince American women to fill the labor shortage.

Her strong stance, fierce look, and blue-collared uniform was meant to show the ideal representation of a working woman. Now, as we’ve mentioned, Rosie is a common (and powerful) symbol of women’s advocacy and activism.

5. That Nike Shirt You Can Never Throw Away

You know, that worn-out Nike shirt you can’t throw out – the basic tee with the swoosh on it. We’re including it on the list simply because so many people recognize the logo.

And, by many, we mean 97% of Americans (this statistic is from 1998 but, because of the brand’s growth nationally and internationally, the percentage may even be higher now).

How the Swoosh Became the Swoosh

You’d think that, for being one of the most famous logos in the world, Nike’s design team had spent millions coming up with the swoosh.

However, it couldn’t be further from the truth. The design team was in fact one graphic design college student, Carolyn Davidson, who was paid $35 to create the design. (In case you want to know, Davidson was also given several shares of the company)

6. The Most Iconic T-Shirt of Them All

Ironically, perhaps the most iconic t-shirt of them all is your standard, regular, no font t-shirt. Nothing fancy, simply a plain, regular cut tee. As we mentioned earlier, if you were people watching some 50 years ago, you probably wouldn’t see hardly anyone outwardly wearing a t-shirt in public.

In fact, for most of its lifetime, the t-shirt had been an undergarment that was popular among workers during the 1800s. The t-shirt eventually became patented in New York in 1868.

Fast forward some several decades later and men start to wear the t-shirt as a regular garment. We see this specifically with the U.S. army where the t-shirt became a favorite because it didn’t require hardly any sewing skills (i.e. no buttons, etc.).

And, now, we see not just men outside of the service wear t-shirts, but women as well. We can expect, because of its comfort, convenience, and style, that the t-shirt isn’t going anywhere.

men t shirts

Final Thoughts: More Iconic T-Shirts to Come

Whether plain or handmade font, T-shirts are here to stay. And, while you may always have that favorite band or Nike t-shirt, expect to see several other iconic t-shirts in the future.

What do you think is the most iconic t-shirt? What other changes have you seen in the t-shirt industry? Be sure to leave your comments below.