No sign of violation can be discerned in the short-sleeved white T-shirt, which is limited to the category of underwear. And yet, it is a design capable of largely defining the wearer’s personality. In the case of Marlon Brando in the film A streetcar named Desire, as a compelling example when talking about this fundamental, clothing sexualized the character of the film and underscored the prototypical masculinity of the time. On the flip side we can put Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski, in keeping with his carefree and lazy character, dressed in a flimsy white T-shirt. Between the two extremes, there are endless possibilities, exploited by fashion brands that are able to explore the limitless and timeless potential of the simplest of clothing designs. In the case of Spain, the success of the white undershirt came from the hands of Abenderado, a brand founded in Mataro in the 1960s that managed to consecrate its shirt as synonymous with success.
From Mataró to the world
The Abenderado brand was founded by Pere Sans in 1963 in Mataro, one of the most traditional textile points of Spanish geography. In its beginning, they made underwear for women and men as well as children. Very soon, they won with their white men’s t-shirts. Maruca García Paredes, director of the fashion area at ESNE (University School of Design, Innovation and Technology), points out that the popularity of this basic has been uneven throughout history: “Its origins date back to the Middle Ages but its use spread with the onset of mass textile production. Curiously, His popularity took a nosedive when in 1934 actor Clark Gable appeared shirtless in a film scene with his shirt off. It happened one night. In Marlon Brando A streetcar named Desire It brought him back into disrepute.”
It is not easy to succeed when selling a product as aseptic and not very innovative as a white t-shirt, there is not much room for design to stand out from the competition. So why was the flag bearer so well received?
History of advertising in Spain
Decades before Calvin Klein revolutionized the fashion industry with provocative underwear ads starring a frail and innocent-looking teenage Kate Moss and a sullen Mark Wahlberg, Abenderdo made history on Spanish television. Advertising was one of the brand’s strengths, with sales skyrocketing after small-screen ads. At that time the audience was not as diverse as it is today and private and regional channels had not started broadcasting. Therefore, starting an advertisement on television is guaranteed to reach millions of potential customers. Thus, Abenderdo became the first brand to advertise men’s underwear in Spain in the 1970s.
He was a pioneer in this sense, but the truth is that Spots had nothing to do with innovation and appreciated the values of the time by appealing to the emotions and glorifying the “masculine” man. Although Abenderado’s clothes were designed for men, some of his advertisements were directed at women. Perhaps one of his most memorable spots ended with the eloquent musical slogan: “Men use Abenderdos because women buy Abenderdos”. In just a few seconds, the song synthesized and legitimized a macho idea rooted in the era, that men did not buy their underwear, a task reserved for women. ie to their mothers or wives.
The brand’s white T-shirts, with short sleeves or straps, became a consumer favorite even among the youngest. Children wore them to school and later in their transition into adulthood. The lyrics of one of the jingles, sung by a woman, emphasize the idea of the abenderado as a signature present at key moments in your life: “Since you were young you have always carried the abenderado within you. On the most important day, when you are fulfilled as a soldier, when you feel in love, the standard bearer”. The particular day to which the song refers refers to First Communion, then the lyrics wink at military service, two essential pillars for the most orthodox societies and with which “good people” are identified.
This message permeated a historical moment in which Spain was facing major changes and challenges. On its current website, the brand cites a study conducted by Dimpanel in the 1980s, quantifying Abenderado’s success as the sales leader in the men’s underwear category with a 37% market share. In those years, the company had more than 600 workers in the Mataró factory, one of the most important companies in the Catalan municipality.
Michael Jordan’s signature
With the change of decade came a crucial turning point. In 1991, the brand was sold to American company Sara Lee. Advertising campaigns carried out in previous years had borne fruit and Abenderdo ads were already part of the collective imagination of the time, although the firm ran the risk of appearing outdated. The new owner’s company went a step further by signing the biggest sports star in the world at the time for its advertisements. Thus the most surprising professional relationship was forged, when basketball player Michael Jordan wore shorts from a flag bearer that is already part of history. It was 1992 and he had just returned from the Barcelona Olympics, where he reportedly discovered the Abenderdo briefs. Behind the campaign was a powerful shift in mindset, women were no longer recognized as public and a charismatic male figure was chosen to appeal to men, the primary recipients of the brand’s designs.
In the early 2000s, Abenderado changed hands again and was acquired by the Sun Capital Fund, which moved its headquarters from Mataró to Madrid. With the turn of the millennium, the relocation of the textile industry began to become the norm rather than the exception, and after a while the brand’s t-shirts ceased to be a product manufactured in Spain. Since 2014, Abenderdo is owned by the American multinational Hanesbrands, which owns other underwear labels such as Dim, Wonderbra Champion or Playtex.
White shirt, success in 2022
And what is the status of the flag bearer today? Have they managed to keep their shirts consistent? Is the brand name familiar to younger generations outside of television and traditional advertising? The truth is that the golden era of the firm is far away, but the current scenario plays in its favour. The white tank top has increased its presence among the followers of the trend, and luxury brands such as Prada or Bottega Veneta have not missed the opportunity to include a plain white shirt in their latest collections. Of course, with a three-figure price. “It’s a big change,” says stylist Ines Marinero, “from an undershirt to a trend garment. It’s something they already knew how to watch in the nineties and it’s back in the news. Sports luxury is now a part of our lives, which is why white shirts are also worn with more elaborate and sophisticated fabric designs.” Style section New York Times A few weeks ago devoted an extensive article to this basic context: “Humble Tank top [así se denomina a la prenda en inglés] It is enjoying its renaissance,” the newspaper headlined. García Paredes also links the white T-shirt’s popularity to the “informalization of intimate clothing,” adding that it has become “a staple whose versatility is elegance and sophistication, boldness, comfort, Simplicity has become…”. . After nearly six decades on the market, Abenderdo is a mere shadow of what it once was, economic problems and a trickle of layoffs in recent years. However, its white shirt lives on in the imagination of a good portion of society, His remaining task is to popularize it among the youngest.