Marlon Brando's performance as Stanley Kowalowski in Elia Kazan's 1950 screen adaptation of "A Streetcar Named Desire" didn't just earn him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, it also reinvented men's fashion. Up until that point, the T-shirt was regarded as an undergarment primarily worn underneath the uniforms of soldiers fighting in warm climates.
Brando's T-shirt was custom-made by the costume department since fitted T-shirts did not exist at the time of the film's production. James Dean later continued what Brando started, setting the T-shirt up as an early icon of the "rebel" style. Soon enough, men turned in their conservative business suits for these casual stand-alone garments.
T-shirts have undergone drastic transformations since the heyday of old Hollywood. From runways to the streets, this longtime favorite in promotional apparel currently is showing softer fabrics, exaggerated necklines and bold colors.
According to Margaret Crow, director of marketing at S&S Activewear, Bolingbrook, Ill., fashion T-shirts are more in demand in the promotional products industry than ever before. "It used to be that basic T-shirts were the only ones being screen printed. But now fashion T-shirts―burnouts, combed ring-spun cotton and trendy silhouettes―are being shown printed at retail, so promotional products dealers are asking for and buying more trendy styles," she observed.
Crow added that customers selling printed shirts at restaurants, museums, resorts and similar locations are finding more success if the shirts show their message on a variety of fashion T-shirt options.
Mary Ellen Nichols, MAS, director of marketing communications for Bodek and Rhodes, Philadelphia, also subscribes to the theory that there is room for fashion in this market. "Our younger buyers and style-watchers are demanding fashion, just like they see in the retail stores. There is not only room for fashion, but a place for fashion, and it is a predominant place," she stressed. "Our young buyers now making purchasing decisions were bred on fashion and brand names. They will continue that choice with their promotional wear."