Pen in hand: Vintage Tehachapi T-shirts: Do you have one in your closet? | Way of life
The T-shirt is a quintessentially American item of clothing that has been around for about 125 years. This week, I’m featuring vintage Tehachapi T-shirts, some with photos sent to me by my long-distance friend Kirk Smith, who lived in Stallion Springs with his wife Terri from 1981 to 1998.
While woven T-shaped garments for the human torso, commonly known as tunics, have been around for thousands of years, the familiar cotton T-shirt we know and love has a more recent origin story.
Around 1900, the Cooper Underwear Company ran magazine advertisements for its new “bachelor’s undershirt”, which was aimed at single men who lacked sewing skills or a woman who possessed them. The advertisement first showed an image of a sad man who had lost all the buttons on his undershirt, and tied them together. Then a second photo showed a dashing man who proudly wore the new garment, which was flexible and could be put on simply by pulling it over his head. “No safety pins – no buttons – no needle – no thread” ran the slogan, presenting itself as the ideal solution for single men who have difficulty sewing.
The popularity of t-shirts increased when the United States Navy began issuing them to sailors as undershirts in 1913, and the earliest extant images of large numbers of people wearing only shirtless t-shirts exterior are the first photos of naval task forces. Their popularity only grew and grew throughout the Depression years, World War II, etc.
In the 1950s, the plain white t-shirt was an outfit of choice for American teenagers. It was used as an undergarment under other shirts during the colder months and alone the rest of the year. The decade of the 1960s saw the rise of printed t-shirts, featuring company logos, political slogans, band names, and more.
In the 1970s and 1980s, every sports team, music festival, sporting event, travel destination, and more offered T-shirts with designs, symbols, and logos. It was at this time that the first known t-shirts of the Tehachapi brand were created. Kirk’s Tehachapi shirts date back to the 1980s.
“The first shirt I sent features grassy hills and oak trees with a rainbow,” Kirk explained, “I think the rounded grassy hills and oak trees are a characteristic part of Tehachapi. The second shirt is from the 25th anniversary of the Mountain Tehachapi Festival in 1988, making this shirt almost 35 years old!The following shirt was made by Mercury Graphics to celebrate the first auto show associated with the Mountain Festival in 1996. I had my Sunbeam Tiger at this car show. The last shirt was made by ‘hachapi Tees in 1992, and we had it made for my dad, who was a huge Laurel and Hardy fan.” Kirk’s father was a truck driver who was also a fan of Tehachapi, and it was he who first led newly-married Kirk and Terri to Tehachapi in 1978.
I have included a photo of one of the beautiful Trees for Tehachapi t-shirts that were made for people who participated in this tree planting project in the area around 1995 when over 2,000 trees were planted in the Tehachapi region. This shirt belonged to George Novinger.
Another shirt was made by Tehachapi’s old casual clothing store, Hodads Surf Shack, which was located on Tehachapi Boulevard in the early 2000s and was a favorite with local residents, myself included. Longtime Tehachapi resident Dave Bouldin wears a commemorative t-shirt for his band, Highline, which is named after the street along which most of the band members lived at the time.
And you, dear readers? Do you or any of your family or friends have vintage Tehachapi T-shirts? If so, send me a picture of the shirt, worn or flat, and we’ll put them online or in the newspaper. We will do this to celebrate our Tehachapi community and that classic American garment: the soft cotton T-shirt.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has been writing for Tehachapi News for over 40 years. Email [email protected]