A Streetcar Named Desire (1950). Directed by Elia Kazan. Costume design by Lucinda Ballard. Starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh.
To think you wouldn’t even be wearing a graphic t-shirt before Marlon Brando sported his dramatically fitted T-shirt in A Streetcar Named Desire seems crazy, but until that point, the idea of a T-shirt in public went hand-in-hand with walking out the door in your underwear.
A Rebel is Born
Elia Kazan’s atmospheric and moody 1950 screen adaptation of Tennesse William’s A Streetcar Named Desire reinvented style for the 20th Century man, and began garnering credible recognition for the ‘rebel’ figure in the public media.
Credit Marlon Brando as the pioneer of the rebel as we know it.
His raw and aggressive performance as Stanley Kowalowski would earn the actor his first Academy Award nomination, as well as solidify Brando as the forefront of American method acting, and Hollywood’s new leading man.
Brando’s brash and exhilarating Stanley, however, would not garner nearly as much attention as his t-shirt, which he wears throughout the majority of the film.
Until this point, the t-shirt was an undergarment. Developed as a slip-on garment to be worn under the uniform of soldiers during the Spanish Civil War, Marines continued wearing the garment while stationed in warm climates.
The t-shirt was also the default garment for many farmers during the Depression, as a cheap and light alternative to the button up. However, no one could imagine seeing the t-shirt as day to day wear in modern America.
Now iconic, Brando’s T-shirt had to be made especially for the actor, as a fitted T-shirt did not exist at the time of the film’s production. The costume team had to wash the garment several times before back sewing the now-famous fitted t-shirt.
Catching the Streetcar
Today, there isn’t a garment more popular than the t-shirt; Brando’s turn in A Streetcar Named Desire is a testament to the power of the cinema, and its ability to shape and change our world.
Brando brought an inspirational charm and easy cool to the look, wearing the t-shirt with a confidence and masculinity never before seen, that quickly aroused attention to the t-shirt as a casual and wearable alternative to the formal high collared fashions of the time.
Streetcar paved the way towards a new casual masculinity, and at the same time created a new kind of hero for the screen.
Brando would continue pushing his bad boy appeal to the forefront of popular culture in films like The Wild One, and the epic On the Waterfront, and was the first choice to test by Warner Bros. for the studio production of Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause. However, Brando would have to hand over the torch to an emerging talent, James Dean, who would continue to push the t-shirt and ‘rebel’ style to a whole new level, that would change men’s fashion forever.
A Streetcar Named Desire is the marking point for a new direction of men’s fashion rooted in the ‘rebel’ attitude.
- Marlon Brando becomes the newest hero of cinema, a ‘rebel’ from the traditional Hollywood good guy.
- Previously considered an undergarment, Brando sports a t-shirt for the first time in modern cinema, and changes fashion history forever.
- A Streetcar Named Desire paves the way towards casual men’s fashions, as well as popularizing the ‘rebel’ in the popular media.
A Streetcar Named Desire is a continuation of the exploration of ‘rebel’ style in film, and fashion. Feel the part? Have more fun facts? Leave your comments below!
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Great article. It is great to know the cultural history of a piece of clothing that we take for granted.
Focus On American Intellectual Film-Classics. Elia Kazan/Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951) As An Unintended American Dystopia – From Streetcar As A Metaphor of Blanche’s Sublime Desire to Streetcar-Stanley
Forerunners of Innocent Thugs In Politics, Business, Finance, War-making, Media and Religious Preaching In US of 21st Century
“A Streetcar Named Desire” by Elia Kazan/Tennessee Williams (1951) is a courageously truthful representation of human emotions and psychology of (sexual) love, as well as the reality of psychological rivalry and fight for getting more prestigious public image than the opponent has. But the film is much more than this. It is a merciless depiction of deeply rooted American archetypes of the “innocent lout”, the “machoistic sentimentality”, and the “misperception of dissimilarity as animosity” (leading to a belligerent posture towards the inclusive democratic concept of human community). These three cultural archetypes (personified by the main character Stanley Kowalski) are reservoirs of antagonistic energy inside a democratic society that targets humanistic education (liberal arts), serious culture and the educated people in general.
Stanley, an immigrant and a worker, is overfilled by social inferiority complex and unconsciously tries to justify his lack of education and hate for politeness and psychological refinement with the pride of belonging to the demos of the democracy. He feels that he represents the real democratic future and scapegoats Blanche, his wife’s sister and a school-teacher, as a woman with a morally ambiguous personal reputation. By doing this he pampers his self-esteem and his image in the eyes of those around as more American than Americans with cultural interests (“liberal elite”).
Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan were able to point out the most disturbing American psycho-cultural trends – contempt for cultural education, intolerance for otherness and dissimilarity, disgust for pluralism of opinions and life styles, and proclivity to treat disagreements with targeting the other side as enemy.
Only recently, in 21st century, we can understand how tragically prophetic “A Streetcar… Desire” is for our country – today Stanley’s Kowalskies are ruling US as conservative politicians, right wing talk show hosts (paid by the inexhaustible corporate profits) and Wall Street schemers. All these people went out of Marlon Brando’s Streetcar-Stanley. We need to return to this amazing film to understand better what’s happening with our country and what exactly psychological powers try to intervene in our future.