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Exhibition - Fashion for the People: Maine’s Graphic Tees

October 24, 2022

Exhibition - Fashion for the People: Maine’s Graphic Tees

Fashion for the People: Maine’s Graphic Tees
October 11, 2022 – April 8, 2023

Portland, ME: From their humble beginnings as undergarments to today’s fashion runways, t-shirts have evolved into universally worn wardrobe staples. Named because the silhouette resembles the capital letter “T,” the t-shirt—also called a “tee”— is usually a short-sleeved, collarless shirt made of cotton.

Maine Historical Society (MHS) traces the 102-year history of the garment and features Maine-themed t-shirts in Fashion for the People: Maine’s Graphic Tees. The exhibit explores how, through the act of wearing graphic tees, people own a part of history relating to politics, social justice, economics, and commemorative events in Maine. In addition to featuring images from its collections, MHS includes a winning selection from its social media call for submissions of a family wearing Maine-themed tees. Fashion for the People, on display in the Showcase Gallery through April 8, 2023, is a companion to MHS’ main gallery exhibition, Northern Threads: Two Centuries of Dress (Part II.)

Background: The modern t-shirt originates from wool union suits and underwear worn by male navy sailors. During World War I, US soldiers saw the advantages of the French military’s lighter and cooler cotton undershirts and brought this innovation back to America. The first documented color graphic t-shirt appears in the 1939 classic film, The Wizard of Oz, where three characters wearing green t-shirts printed with white “OZ” lettering stuff the Scarecrow on an assembly line.

In the 1950s, Hollywood stars like Marlon Brando and James Dean popularized t-shirts, further shifting public perception of the garments from underwear to streetwear. Beginning in the 1960s, t-shirts became blank canvases for people to express their opinions—everything from civil rights to a favorite band—and perhaps as a tool for cultural change. Technological advances in ink and printing techniques in the 60s and 70s led to a boom in printing on t-shirts, providing companies a new marketing venue: the walking t-shirt billboard.

How to see Maine Historical Society Exhibitions:

In addition to seeing Fashion for the People: Maine’s Graphic Tees, visitors can enjoy the landmark exhibition Northern Threads: Two Centuries of Dress at Maine Historical Society Part II, through December 31, 2022; and Chansonetta Stanley Emmons: Staging the Past, through March 31, 2023.

Visit our exhibition page for details on tickets and admission to MHS galleries on 489 Congress Street in Portland. Access for MHS members is free; general admission adults $10; children (6-17) $5, and under 6, free. Membership info

Fashion for the People: Maine’s Graphic Tees is also accessible online 24/7 on the Maine Memory Network digital history platform.

For more information:

Maine Historical Society
489 Congress Street, Portland, ME 04101

Maine Historical Society preserves and shares Maine's story to enrich life in contemporary Maine.