Vintage Levi's Bay Meadows cotton t-shirt
Maker - Levi's
Era - Middle of the 20th century
Material - Tubular cotton knit
Acquired - by Second Sunrise 2017
This week I wanted to show you this vintage Levi's t-shirt and I thought it might be a good idea to write a few words about the history of t-shirts, followed by what I know about this particular one. I'll wrap it all up with some thoughts about sizing, historical aspects along with what sizing looks like today and my opinions on that.
The T-shirt is named so because the garment looks like a "T" when it's laying flat. T-shirts as we know them today were probably issued for the US army in the 40's, inspired by undergarments used by Europeans army in WW1 and earlier.
It wasn't until the mid 20'th century and the post war era that the T-shirt really rose in popularity. I like to refer to the post war era as the rise of the casual era for clothing in America. I'm not sure if that's a general expression or not, but in my opinion fashion in those years was shaped by the positive movements that came after the great depression followed by the war. American economy was booming and things were about to get better. Leisure time became more important and the Americans had more time and money to travel and explore their own country than they used to. Using a t-shirt, which was considered an undergarment at the time, as casual clothing was soon to be socially accepted but it started out as the clothing for the young rebels who favored the combination of a pair of blue jeans and a t-shirt. Role models such as Marlon Brandon and James Dean spread the style and many followed. The basic idea of wearing jeans and T-shirt actually came from war returnees. Some of them found it hard to fit into society and the biker gang culture was a way of finding a context and acknowledgement in a group. These rebels were using t-shirts that they had since their time in the army.
Today, t-shirts seem synonymous with carrying a message and the history of the printed t-shirt actually started back in the 40's. It was common that squadrons painted their t-shirt with a logo to show which group they belonged to. The t-shirt simply proved to be the perfect garment for carrying a message and if you think about it, we still live in that era and even if we can find a lot of different designs on the t-shirt market today the basic idea is still the same as it was back in the 40's, to tell something about the wearer and T-shirts are still highly associated with recognition and belonging. As an example, carrying a Slayer t-shirt will tell something about who you are and what you value, making it easier to connect with people who share those values. Mentioning Slayer was just an example in this case. It has nothing to do with this guy.
Let's get back to this weeks topic! We acquired this Levi's t-shirt last year. It's previous owner is a friend of ours who spent some years working for Levi's Vintage Clothing, traveling across the world to find interesting vintage garments to reproduce. He felt that it was about time to pass some garments on to us and we are more than happy to have them as inspirational pieces in our archive with the idea to show them to you and hopefully inspire others with an interest of clothing!
As for this Levi's t-shirt Im really not an expert in defining the age of vintage knits, but for what I have learned about the Levi's Bay Meadow it was a line used for making undergarments such as t-shirt as early as the 30's and Im not sure if there is an earlier version of a Levi's t-shirt existing. If you happen to know more about this topic I would be more than happy to hear your thoughts on it!
"Bay Meadow" was the name of a horse racing track located in San Mateo, California operating between 1934 and 2008 in the San Francisco Bay Area. So we do know that this t-shirt couldn't have been produced earlier than 1934. My estimation based on the feel of the garment is that it's most likely from the 40's / 50's, but it's just based on my gut feeling so don't take it for a fact.
The t-shirt is rather small and as you can see, the shape of it tells us that this garment was most likely designed to be worn strictly as an undergarment. The knit has wide ribbs making it stretchy and, by the feeling of the fabric, comfortable to wear.
In the back of the neck we find the label. As you can see in the pictures it's woven and reads "Bay Meadows, California Styled By Levi Strauss Co." The logo features three horses racing on the oval racing track. At the far right, you can also see a shape that I think would resemble the platform for the audience.
As you have probably noticed this t-shirt is a size M. Im not sure of when the so called "alpha sizing" (S, M, L etc) system was first used, but I do know that it was actually used for t-shirts in it's early days which makes sense, because an undergarment made of a cotton knit doesen't need the more specified sizings that other systems used. So for a t-shirt is was simply good enough to know your approximate size and then the stretchy knit will shape according to it's wearer.
I believe that the alpha sizing is the result of making mass production easier. The system seems to be best fitting in todays consumption standard and if we live in the time of more and more clothing being sold online I do believe that the alpha-system will be whats best suited, since it makes the size options easy to understand.
But somehow I think it's sad that clothing back in the days was made to better suit the wearers body. I also believe that stretch fabrics and thinner fabrics in general made it easier to standardize the sizing of garments and it sort of makes sense that the t-shirt was first out to be sized in this way. But it also seems like we have been moving in the direction where fit has became less important than it was earlier in the clothing history.
The front of the t-shirt, showing the texture of the knit.
The shoulder of the sleeve is cut with close to no shape, giving the t-shirt a straight line from the shoulder to the end of the sleeve. Today its more common to have a slanted shape for a better fit.
The side of the t-shirt showing the tubular knit.
We acquired the t-shirt in the autumn of 2017 and a couple of months later we received a shipment with some Japanese magazines, among them the Lightning Archives T-shirts book (ISBN 978-4-7779-2719-7). And you can probably guess that we were very surprised to see this picture in the book! It was first published in 2013 and somehow the t-shirt pictured in it has made it to our collection. Having a look at the picture from the book and the stains on the right shoulder we can see that it's the exact same t-shirt!
If you have more information about Levi's knitted t-shirts or the history of knitted underwear in general I would be happy to hear your thoughts, and if you would like to have a closer look at this garment you are welcome to stop by the store!
Width - 45 cm
Length - 50 cm
Sleeve - 13 cm
Two weeks ago we shared som information about vintage denim shirts in the form of a 1950s Levi's shorthorn shirt and if you want to read that article you will find it here.