Slogan t-shirts are everywhere right now. Whenever we read their messages, a part of us relates to their simple wisdom, so that we want to bear it on our chests, too. Be it ‘Love will save us’, ‘Meat is Murder’ or ‘La Vie est Belle’, slogan t-shirts traverse every corner of the fashion world. When we buy a slogan t-shirt, we might not even truly understand the idea that it supports. Now that high-street and high-end brands alike are churning out hundreds of slogan t-shirts, are they losing their unique effect?
Katherine Hamnett is the mother of the political slogan t-shirt. She went to 10 Downing Street in 1984 bearing the slogan ‘58% Don’t Want Pershing’ to shake Margaret Thatcher’s hand – a political statement against the stationing of American missiles in the UK at the end of the cold war. The slogan t-shirt became a bold, public outcry against political injustices and Hamnett led the way. She focused on many issues that concerned the fashion industry itself. One of her most famous slogans was ‘No More Fashion Victims’, attracting attention to the outrageous number of workers who die because of the cotton industry. Slogan t-shirts have a simplicity that means they can be recreated for next to nothing – a message can be duplicated by anyone and worn by anyone. For Hamnett and her adherents, to wear a slogan t-shirt was to wear your political beliefs for the world to see.
Wearing a slogan t-shirt doesn’t simply convey a message, it forms a cult. By wearing the lyrics of a song on your chest, you are doing much more than alluding to a pretty melody. Although ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is iconic because of its melancholy emotional power, to wear this slogan on your chest shows connection with to a huge movement in popular music’s history and culture. Wearing a t-shirt with a few simple words on it can fulfil the desire that young people have to feel as though they belong. This can be applied to any industry, not just the music one. In 2006, House of Holland created a series of witty, brightly coloured slogan t-shirts – ‘I’m a tosser for Coco Rocha’ – which created an in-joke with the fashion industry. A slogan should signify much more than what first meets the eye. Being on the inside of the joke is what attracted us so much to the slogan t-shirt.
But today, when slogans are thrown about left, right and centre, their significance is called into question. It would not be right to call what some of these t-shirts promote a ‘slogan’, since they lack the weight of such a definition. Perhaps a ‘phrase’ describes them better, or merely ‘words’. It is easy enough to wander around in a t-shirt with a French slogan on it that you don’t understand. Worse still, it is easy to wear an English slogan completely thoughtlessly. A slogan can act as a way to project part of your personality, and to this end there is no reason for it to carry any deeper significance than your attraction to it. But as Katherine Hamnett would comment, many of the problems that her famous t-shirts tackle are ever present today, and need to be talked about and worn.
To wear a slogan t-shirt is to be empowered: you are exerting your freedom and your boldness to put across your point of view. I, too, have fallen in love with a few modern slogan t-shirts that don’t have any political connection. It is often difficult to pinpoint exactly why we fall in love with them – they call to us because of what they symbolise and not what they say. Although the slogan t-shirts found on the high street today are not as politically charged as those of the 1980s, they remind us of the power of the slogan. It unites people in their beliefs, and is one of the bravest ways to put across a point of view. Rather than hiding behind a t-shirt, you are using it to expose yourself.
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