When discussing powerfully iconic items of American clothing, three of the most important are associated directly with Marlon Brando: the leather motorcycle jacket, Levi blue jeans, and the white crew neck t-shirt.
It is this famous image above, from the movie A Streetcar Named Desire, of Brando in his t-shirt, that has seared this item of clothing into our collective national consciousness as the symbol of dangerous and forbidden sexuality. From that point forward, wearing t-shirts as outer wear became not just acceptable, but actually cool, and young men who courted the Brando-like image for themselves, copied the style, down to the surly look. (Even today, a brand like Carhartt Streetwear, make plenty of reference to Brando’s look.)
From that starting point, as we moved forward into the 1960s and 70s, the simple white crew neck t-shrt was customized with slogans and symbols, peace signs and smiley faces; still one of the markers of rebellious youth, although the stark white had morphed into the colors of the rainbow, and been tie-dyed almost beyond recognition.
And yet the expressive power of the simple white t-shirt remains, still as evocative as it has been since Brando first brought it out from beneath his shirt.