Possibly the most taken for granted item in most wardrobes, the t-shirt has an illustrious history that is over 100 years old. First issued by the Navy to sailors sometime during, or just after, the Spanish American war in 1898, the first printed T is thought to be the Air Corps Gunnery School t-shirt featured on the July 13, 1942 cover of LIFE magazine. Shortly after, a Miami based company, Tropix Togs, licensed the rights from the Walt Disney Company to print the first Mickey Mouse t-shirt. After the actor Marlon Brando wore a tight white t-shirt as sexy brute Stanley Kowalski in the 1951 film, "A Streetcar Named Desire", the t-shirt's status as a fashion staple was assured. From the psychedelic statement of tie dyed t-shirts in the '60s to the chic version popularized by Don Johnson's character, Sonny Crockett, in the '80s TV show "Miami Vice", to any version of the "Keep Calm and Carry On" slogans of today, the t-shirt has flourished as a popular form of self expression.
The t-shirt is the ultimate tabula rasa, a blank slate primed for any statement or advertisement, and for most of its existence it has been used to promote everything from soft drinks to sports teams to political slogans and all else in between. The clothing retailer Gap has often led the charge, with their simple designs and zen like advertising, often recruiting celebrities to wear their t-shirts in popular ad campaigns that take the "celebs are just like us" riff to new levels. In 2008, Gap introduced a limited-edition t-shirt collection in collaboration with the Whitney Museum of American Art, featuring designs by today's most influential contemporary artists. Jeff Koons, Chuck Close, Barbara Kruger and Kenny Scharf are four of the thirteen artists who contributed to the collection. Today, Uniqlo, the Japanese casual wear retailer, sells pop art t-shirts featuring the work of the iconic artists, and sometime collaborators, Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat, along with Star Wars and Hello Kitty t-shirts.
Giant global retailers with big budgets for expensive licensing deals do not corner the market on t-shirts featuring unique and original artwork. Joe D'Allesandro, the "Little Joe" of Lou Reed's famous anthem, "Walk on the Wild Side", and the crotch on the Rolling Stones' "Sticky Fingers" album cover, as well as the star of the Warhol produced films "Flesh" and "Trash", has a line of t-shirts available on his website. The "Walk on the Holy Side" T features the artwork of Italia Ruotolo and there is a black and a white version of D'Allesandro's famous "Little Joe" tattoo available with three other original illustrations. And recently, the singer/songwriter/artist Pal Shazar relaunched her t-shirt company, A Pal Shirt, featuring original silk screen images of her art work.
Shazar was a founding member, with Andrew Chinich, of the new wave pop group Slow Children, and is married to recording artist Jules Shear. Shazar and Shear just released their second album together, Mess You Up, which is available on their website as well as Amazon.com. Shazar has released 8 solo albums during her career, but has never stepped away from her love of painting. Her artwork has graced the covers of her own as well as Shear's albums, and is featured on the cover of the Waterboys "Dream Harder" album. She has self published books, including "Pal Shazar The Illustrated Lyrics" in 2008 and, most recently, last year's "Pal Shazar's La Strada", a collection of 42 original paintings inspired by the 1954 Federico Fellini film.
Shazar's current mediums are watercolor and oil. She first launched A Pal Shirt in 2000, and Jennifer Aniston, Elizabeth Shue and Jenna Elfman have all worn one of her creations. Her t-shirt subjects are whimsical and idealized versions of humans and animals underscored by clever and poetic statements. Shazar's t-shirts are available on her website, A Pal Shirt, as well as the Woodstock, NY store, Talisman of Woodstock. Her shirts can also be found on the West Coast at the store Madison Los Angeles and a special hand stitched t-shirt, "jane eyre head" is available at the LA bookstore Skylight Books. For this article, a select group of artists, musicians and actors gathered at a studio on the Upper West Side for a fashion shoot wearing their favorite Pal shirt. The images can be viewed in the accompanying slide show.