The History of Custom Apparel

Custom apparel has come a long way since its early roots in ancient China. That’s right—traces of historic custom apparel date back to 200 AD, with the use of woodblock printing. Nowadays, custom apparel is commonplace to the public, with nearly every major brand putting out branded promotional products of some kind. How did the world of custom apparel get to where it is today where custom t-shirts, in particular, rule the promotional scene?

By learning about the history of custom apparel, we can be better prepared for the future. Let’s take a look at some of the major events in the history of branded promotional items to learn about ways we can better promote our own businesses.

The Early Years

The earliest piece of customized textile ever discovered is from the Han Dynasty—a piece of silk, printed with the colors of three flowers. Many subsequent incarnations of custom apparel would come up in Asia and Africa before making its way to Europe. Printing processes became more and more advanced alongside the ancestors of embroidery, threading their way throughout traditional societies as a way to beautify and celebrate.

Though the ancestors of advertising date back to ancient Egypt, promoting businesses through custom signs and garments became a major force in capitalist societies in the mid-1800’s. Printed textiles were created using methods not much different than today’s: inks were either stamped directly onto textiles or fabrics were dyed and arranged in a certain way. Nevertheless, the modern-day silk screen printer that you’ll find at a place like Instant Imprints would be quite a shock to the olden-day print shops!

Custom T-Shirts Hit the Scene

Custom t-shirts became popular in the 1950’s when a group of Floridian resort owners and tour guides decorated t-shirts with ads for their services. Ink technology would develop to the point where finer, more intricate designs became possible and more and more business started utilizing these new advancements in printing. The t-shirt grew in popularity amongst the American public after they were issued as undergarments by the US Navy around the time of World War I. They were issued as short-sleeved crew-neck cotton undershirts meant to be worn beneath a uniform. Since then, shirts have been a staple in the modern wardrobe.

Fun fact: the word “t-shirt” was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 1920.

The Global Phenomenon

In 1969, tie-dye became a massive form of self-expression fueled by the Woodstock era, when amateur t-shirt printers used dyes originally meant for drapes and linens to make psychedelic designs of their own. Custom t-shirts had then become a staple of western style, and people often collected the most unique or iconic custom apparel. Band and brand t-shirts became symbols in themselves, with a Beatles shirt earning closet space alongside a Pepsi tee. Many small businesses partnered up with t-shirt printing services to create custom promotional products of their own.

Custom Apparel Today

Today, custom apparel is bigger than ever before. Customized t-shirts are massively popular for promoting a brand, highlighting an upcoming celebration or memorializing a past event. Even small-scale events such as family reunions often involve some form of custom apparel. New technologies such as Direct-to-Garment (DTG) give the ability to print HD images right on a t-shirt. Imagine your favorite photo sharply printed onto a tee!

Modern embroidery utilizes high precision machines to stitch sophisticated designs onto durable garments such as golf shirts. Machine embroidery involves computerized stitching technology that can accurately replicate images. The ancient art of embroidery has made its way into the modern digital word through the use of these machines.

When you decide that the time is right for your business to advance into the cutting-edge era of custom apparel, you’ll want to work with a partner who has the latest promotional apparel tech and knows how to use it. That’s why there’s no better customization shop to work with than Instant Imprints®. Not only do we have a deep respect for the craft, but we aim to help your business achieve its visibility goals through the use of expertly crafted promotional products. At Instant Imprints you get global expertise combined with the personal touch of a local Image Expert.

From the first silkscreen to a modern-day CAD-cut vinyl, custom apparel has come a long way to serve your business. Stop by an Instant Imprints near you to take your business to a new era of brand visibility.

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