Slogan tees: just lettering or politically bettering?

Caring about fashion is regularly perceived to be frivolous, superficial and consumeristic. It is also frequently seen as a mode of self-expression. Is it, then, that the outfits we assemble are outward manifestations of our inner superficiality? One would certainly hope not.

Might slogan tees be the necessary bridge between fashion’s aesthetic and political motivators?                 

Some might argue the gap is naturally bridged already. Our self-imagery can certainly be shaped by our sociopolitical standings without lettering it across our chests in Helvetica: going braless, dressing punk and androgyny are just some examples. Naturally, we are drawn to those who like to dress similarly to ourselves, on the, perhaps subconscious, assumption that we might share more than just a predilection for vintage sport sweatshirts. Or bucket hats. Or boat shoes. Or whatever floats your aforementioned shoe-ridden boat.

The mapping of our personal politics onto our bodies is not breaking any new ground then. But there does seem to be something loud and almost abrasive about political slogan tees – the shout of a top reading ‘Mr/s Harry Styles <3 x’ does not echo quite so far as one reading ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘GAY O.K.’ or ‘This is what a feminist looks like’.

Such tees have made appearances at Fashion Week and on political party leaders such as Ed Miliband. Their reach and purposes are far and multiple. Brands such as Dior declaring ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ politicise clothes that are largely for purely aesthetic purposes, and are made by people one assumes are being paid a decent wage for their skills. Yet the models donning the t-shirts tend to be those adhering to arguably problematic beauty standards. They are also expensive and therefore inaccessible to many. When Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Harriet Harman wear t-shirts with the same slogan, they aestheticise their political standings and make them more accessible. But these t-shirts, according to an investigation by the Mail On Sunday, were made in factories in Mauritius where the machinists receive a meagre 62p per hour for their labour. The positives are obvious, but the shortcomings don’t reflect the message the t-shirt is supposed to send. Perhaps, in these instances, it is best to stick to a hashtag.

The most successful campaigns should surely be available to all and sustainably produced. One might look to American Apparel’s ‘GAY O.K.’ and ‘Legalize Gay’ tees for inspiration. Although the company is probably headed towards liquidation now, its LGBT+ friendly advertising campaigns should remain admirable and inspire other brands to follow in their footsteps. The company has been known to hand out over 50,000 of these t-shirts for free (although they were one of their cheapest items to buy anyway), and to use erotic same-sex images in their advertising. Their clothes brag the label ‘This T-shirt was sewn by 9 people in a sweatshop-free environment in Downtown LA, where they are paid fair wages and have access to healthcare benefits’.

While it is difficult to run the perfect campaign and be hyperaware of the political pros and cons that our slogan tees harbour, there is plenty of room for such a t-shirt to exist. 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Related Stories

In this section

Across the site

Best of the Rest