Muscle tees were among the most prominent trends of the 1980s, and some people think that it was because so many people were into bulking up and gaining muscle during all that time. Muscle tees were perfect for showing off all that muscle. Maybe that’s true, but it’s more accurate to say that the fitness craze wasn’t the only reason for the popularity of muscle tees back then. After all, even the skinny folks were wearing them!
It’s probably more accurate to say that a lot of celebrities at the time were into gaining lots of muscles. And since common folk tended to follow celebrity styles and trends, when they wore muscle tees, everyone wore them too.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger. The popularity of bodybuilding at the time was so great that an Austrian muscleman who couldn’t really speak English all that well became such an icon. It helped that he first appeared in Conan the Barbarian, but he really made his mark as the largely silent robotic killer in The Terminator. Soon he was in B-movies that somehow become big hits because of his stature, like Commando and Predator.
- Sylvester Stallone. Stallone was also one of the icons of the 80s, and like Arnie he was also living proof that speech impediments weren’t necessarily impediments to success if you have large muscles. It also helped when he demonstrated great skill in killing people creatively on screen. Stallone was already a marquee name because of Rocky, but he would cement his status as a screen legend by playing the super soldier John Rambo. The first movie First Blood was a hit, but the second one in which he refought the Vietnam War and won became a mega success worldwide.
- Jean-Claude Van Damme. He made hits out of movies like Blood Sport and Kickboxing, and it can be argued that the mixed martial arts today would not have been as popular had it not been for these movies.
- Wrestlers. The World Wrestling Federation was a huge hit on TV, and while there where many famous names like Andre the Giant and Randy Savage, perhaps the most famous of them all was Hulk Hogan. Nowadays people are still inexplicably drawn to the stylized violence of wrestling, which is why The Rock became a huge movie star too.
- Rock Stars. These people also like to wear muscle tees, although for the most part they didn’t actually have big muscles. After all, their use of drugs and alcohol didn’t really translate to bigger muscles. But seeing these skinny dudes in muscle tees just made those shirts more acceptable than ever. They (both the rock stars and the muscle tees) were a symbol of rebellion against conventional rules.
Muscle shirts today may have been replaced by wife-beaters and tight-tees, but the idea of muscle tees have never really gone away. They’re still a staple in gyms and rock concert stages as well.