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T-shirts that speak: Fashion as a political tool has always been about optics, subliminal cues and nuance – Wear it and say it




T-shirts that speak: Fashion as a political tool has always been about optics, subliminal cues and nuance – Wear it and say it | Economic times

Wear it and say it
Anyone who says fashion is not political hasn’t noticed the length of former US President Donald Trumps ‘red ties or thinks the appearance of US Vice President Kamala Harris’ suit sneakers is a fluke.

From the white suffragette and the keffiyeh as a symbol of Palestinian self-determination to the Ches beret and Times Up bracelets, fashion as a political tool has always been about optics, subliminal clues and nuances. But it’s never hidden, in fact it’s about wearing your ideology on your sleeve. And nowhere is this more evident than in the Slogan T-Shirt, an incredibly visible vehicle used by people to express opinions or support movements. Every protest movement or social movement has produced a talking T-shirt.

Here is a short story of the talking tee.


Dewey did it
Writer Scott Fitzgerald may have first used the word T-shirt in his 1920 novel “This Side of Paradise”. However, it was after World War II that the message potential of a T-shirt was unleashed. In 1948, Republican presidential candidate Thomas Dewey decorated T-shirts with Dew it with Dewey. He lost to Harry Truman. But the slogan T-shirt won.

In 2018, the London Fashion and Textile Museum opened an exhibition t-shirt: CultCulture-Subversion with 200 iconic t-shirts that changed the status of what was originally an undergarment. In an interview with, curator Dennis Nothdruft said: [The T-shirt] It’s a really basic way of telling the world who and what you are, it was about the personnel because it was politicized.


Slogan t-shirts, now!
In India, various protests have given us slogan t-shirts although many are not organized and are displayed in online stores outside of India.

But no farmers, no food, no future is a popular slogan as was Sab Yaad Rakha Jayega during CAA-NRC events. With the ease of access to digital printing, anyone can start a t-shirt campaign.

For example, comedian Kunal Kamra launched his line of Wah modiji wah T-shirts in 2018 while “Hindi Theriyathu PodaMP Kanimozhi’s (I Dont Understanding Hindi, Get Lost) t-shirts went viral in 2020 after a CISF staff member at Chennai Airport asked her if she was Indian after saying she did not know Hindi.


The Vivienne Westwood Touch


The Vivienne Westwood Touch

In the UK, designers Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren used the T-shirt as a blank canvas for punk ideology. The British punk movement was rooted in general social unrest among British youth. Westwood and McLarens t-shirts covered everything from religion to fascism.

In 1973, The New York Times nicknamed the T-shirt as the medium of the message.


Feminist slogans
Critics call it the slogans of fourth wave feminism. The Fawcett Society, with She UK, released a T-shirt with the tagline This Is What A Feminist Looks Like, designed primarily for men.

In Spring / Summer 2017, Dior sent We Should All Be Feminists t-shirts to the ramp, designed by first female chief designer Maria Grazia Churi. The slogan refers to the book by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichies of the same name.

In 2018, designer Prabal Gurung created The Future is Female line of t-shirts.


Haute couture activism
Maison Margiela was one of the first names to make tee-shirt activism fashionable when it used tee-shirts to raise awareness about AIDS in the fall / winter of 1994. In 2001, the high-end streetwear brand Supreme has released T-shirts to help 9/11 victims.

In 2020, he partnered with Takashi Murakami to raise funds for help with Covid-19. Nike has also launched a BeTrue clothing and sneakers campaign to show its support for the LGBTQ + community. Beginning in 2006, Marc Jacobs released a series of t-shirts featuring various celebrities posing nude to raise awareness and raise funds for skin cancer.


The sixties
The t-shirt’s affordability and widespread adoption made it a symbol of political activism throughout the 1960s, from the civil rights movement to the Vietnam War. In 1968, Harvard students wore anti-war T-shirts during the sitins. Around the same time, the NAACP and the Black Panther Party also used t-shirts to promote their program. Since then, t-shirts have been part of the black protest tradition, the latest being Black Lives Matter.


Big bold message
In 1984, designer Katharine Hamnett wore a 58% Dont Want Pershing slogan tee while shaking hands with then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to declare anti-thermonuclear war. Hamnett helped ramp up protest clothing in his signature oversized style, bold black font on white cotton t-shirts with slogans such as Choose Life to Save the World to Cancel Brexit recently.

She said The GuardianI wanted to put a really big message on T-shirts that could be read from 20 or 30 feet away. Slogans work on so many different levels and are also a way of aligning with a cause. They are tribal. Wearing one is like making a mark.


Tee for fundraising
In the late 1980s, the African National Congress (ANC) used a T-shirt with graphics calling for an end to apartheid in South Africa, or with portraits of then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela. It was a way for people to express their support or even make an informal donation to the ANC, a major turning point in T-shirt activism as it was now used to raise funds.


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