It often frustrates me when people call fashion frivolous or unimportant. “Why?” you may ask. Because, it has played an incredibly instrumental role in almost every social justice campaign for the last 100 years. Take the humble slogan tee for example. Whilst the “Feminist” and “The Future is Female” t-shirts of the past few years may seem innovative, they’re actually part of a long history of people using what they wear to make statements about how they feel.
The slogan tee rose to prominence in the 1980s by designer Katherine Hamnett who famously greeted Margaret Thatcher at London Fashion Week wearing a t-shirt that read “58% don’t want Pershing” – a statement expressing how people felt about the relocation of US missiles to UK soil. In 2005, in response to proposed anti-terrorist legislation, Vivienne Westwood produced a similar piece reading “I AM NOT A TERRORIST, please don’t arrest me”. Then, just last year, Christian Dior and Prabal Gurung released t-shirts emblazoned with feminist slogans, the high street inevitably made copies and the strong sentiment of girl power was worn across the chests of women everywhere.
The fascinating history of the slogan tee is the concept behind the Fashion and Textile Museum’s latest exhibit: T-Shirt: Cult | Culture | Subversion. The display takes a unique position on the history of the t-shirt and explores t-shirts throughout the 20th century, following the stories from luxury fashion, political statements, fandom and ethics. The exhibit, which is open until May 6th, inspires new ways of looking at a familiar object and provokes thought about personal consumption and expression of clothing, leading to the idea that we all own a part of history, whether that be personal or universal, in our wardrobes.
Peace and love, Bec