T-shirt power

History of the slogan T-shirt

I recently found myself at the Tshirt- Cult, Culture, Subversion exhibition at the Fashion and Textile museum. Design, fashion and activism all rolled into one – what’s not to love? I’ve always enjoyed wearing a slogan T-shirt and this exhibition told me how they came about.

Most of those featured were from the seventies onwards, where Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett were two of the leading designers wearing their heart on their sleeve.

Gender equality, LGBT community, animal rights and the environment are key themes of activism and in 1973 The New York Times declared the T-shirt ‘the medium for the message’.

Nowadays slogan T-shirts are very familiar but still as powerful. I saw Sue Perkins wearing a ‘Choose love’ T-shirt on TV and quickly found out that it’s a collaboration with Katharine Hamnett and Help Refugees. This is a great cause that I may not have heard about if it wasn’t for that T-shirt peaking my interest.

What conversation will you start?


Lee Price’s collection of Vivienne Westwood T-shirts is one of the main features of the exhibition. He says:

‘I’ve made a lot of friends through bumping into people who were wearing the same T-shirt as me, or wearing one I coveted’.

I agree that they’re a great conversation starter, and if you’re going to wear something why not make sure it says something about who you are?

My personal collection of T-shirts aren’t very political, and include festival mementos (Live Aid, Glastonbury), random Japanese finds (‘Life is sparkle’, ‘Sorry for partying’) and local artist northern humour from Helen Drake Illustration (a stegosaurus with the word ‘What’ and a Unicorn saying ‘ey up’). I’m not sure what that says about me but they have got me a few comments from strangers which is good because I love meeting people.

Ethical issues

I couldn’t help but think about the sustainability issues with using t-shirts as your voice, and was happy to see the exhibition discussing this:

T-shirts impose a significant strain on natural resources [and are] bound up with unfair labour practices around the globe. The T-shirt is also regarded as a relatively disposable item, falling out of favour either because of it’s basicness or has gone out of fashion.

They highlight a variety of approaches to fashion sustainability and emphasise that ‘our consumer choices are social and political acts. I think today we’re much more aware of fast fashion and what goes into making our clothes, and it’s great to see some high street brands adding their own ‘conscious’ line.

I haven’t always thought about the story behind how my clothes are made but it’s now firmly part of my decision making.

Make good choices

You can easily check your brand at www.ethicalconsumer.org

If you’re thinking about buying something new, why not check your wardrobe again. I recently decided to do a wardrobe edit and found things I didn’t even know I had!

Learn more

You can visit the exhibition from 23 June – 22 September at The Civic.

2 thoughts on “T-shirt power

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