Women in Munich demonstrate against the ‘maxi’ looks featured in the approaching autumn and winter fashion in 1970.
Fashion, specifically subcultures with their distinguishable style, and various articles of clothing, as means to resist have been utilised by protestors of all sorts. While subcultures role in the society have changed and style became somewhat neutral, there’s still few politically charged fashion items that exist as a medium that helps us to challenge political and social constructs.
Fashion as a form of protest and resistance has been going on for decades. From women’s rights activists in 60s to different subculture representatives: the teds, the mods, the punks’… By styling themselves in various different bold fashions and wearing certain articles of clothing – people have utilised fashion as a method of resistance, showcasing political and social affiliations.
Looking at the fashion scene nowadays, it’s quite evident that the subcultures have changed – became less definable. While the decline is obvious, some even suggest the death of subcultures as we know it (tribalism in a form of protest). And I wouldn’t beg to differ. The information age, homogenous culture, as well as the lack of teenage rebellion, are to be charged guilty, as James Gill offers a few reasons behind the shift. Of course, later identifying the real causes of the change: ‘increased equality and representation, increased fragmentation of society, a decline in absolute poverty in western society.’
Subcultures merely became a style and various daring and innovative everyday youth fashions are continually being put on the map. But is the daily, even the ‘ballsiest’ style itself, still being implemented as a tool of opposition, demonstrating one’s political and cultural associations? My answer is – hardly. Judging from the social media practices, the style has somewhat become more of a self-esteem boost tool (‘doing it for the likes’) or means to demonstrate one’s creativity, taste, status quo, and perhaps even the ability to follow the trends.
Photographed by Phil Oh/Vogue
So, if style became politically and socially neutral does it mean fashion is no longer applied as means of protest? Not at all. Various clothing items are still being worn up to date to embody the resistance. Think the most recent hot item, the pussy hats. Pussy hats enabled brands, designers behind it, and the wearers to show their political and social stance. Similarly, hijab (Anniesa Hasibuan teamed the hijab with flowing gowns) sent a powerful political message right from the centre stage of the fashion week; Not long after the President Donald J. Trump’s executive order to restrict entry from seven, predominantly Muslim countries.
cc Christian Siriano NYFW finale/Getty Images
Pussy hats and the hijab and perhaps other few clothing items definitely made into resistance’s fashion books. But here, another important hero exists. Continuing to fight the fight as a medium for protest messages. It’s been with us from around 80s and has an interesting history, transforming from an undergarment to the subversion icon… And that, my friends, is a t-shirt!
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters | Via ELLE/Getty Images
Following women’s march after Trump’s election, and the march year after, we’ve sees fashion industry’s moguls use its platform to raise awareness and empower; while using a T-shirt as a medium for messaging. Think Maria Grazia Chiuri’s debut Dior Collection’s star “We should all be feminists” tee. Brands like Dior and others like The Christian Siriano “People are People” are now taking the wardrobe staple and embracing it as a means of political messaging.
At Creatures of Comfort. Photo: Andrew Toth/Getty Images
But let’s take a closer look at the t-shirt’s transformative story, starting with its genesis. It was a mere undergarment up till 1920 and around that time author F.Scott Fitzgerald was the first one to name the undergarment as T-shirt in his novel, This Side of Paradise. Though as a stand-alone outer-garment tee was popularised by the likes of Marlon Brando, specifically by his role as Stanley Kowalski in A Street Car Named Desire. And, of course, the Hollywood’s heartthrob James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. A spike in t-shirt sales after movie releases illustrate that both actors played a big role in altering t-shirt’s reputation. It became a pop product! But then again, who cares? Only around the early 80s, the humble tee has evolved from the wardrobe basic or the pop item to a medium for political and social messaging. Katherine Hamnett and Viviene Westwood were one of the first designers that recognised T-shirts potential communication power.
Photo: Press Association – Thatcher Meets Hamnett
Katherine Hamnett’s has been producing slogan T-shirts since the 1980s. Her t-shirt “Choose Life” was worn later by belate George Michael in the Wham! music video Wake Me Up Before YouGo-Go. But she really made political history in London fashion week in 1984; By infamously greeting then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher wearing her “58% don’t want Pershing” tee. Designer initially, didn’t plan to go because of her strong disagreement with M. Thatcher’s policies:
‘I couldn’t stand Thatcher and I wasn’t going to go, because of what she’d done to the trade unions, to schools, and because of the Falklands War.’ – She mentioned in her interview with Vogue in 2017.
In the end, Katherine attended the reception wearing a T-shirt protesting the installation of U.S. nuclear warheads on UK land. Her last-minute decision to take the opportunity and stand up for her dogmas not only made a political history but also put the wardrobe basic onto resistance fashion’s map. She became one of the biggest politically charged t-shirt advocates.
Westwood wears the controversial Destroy T-shirtvia wordpress.com
Following up, Vivienne Westwood produced a tee decorated with a red Nazi swastika, an image of Christ on the cross, the word “DESTROY” and Sex Pistols Lyrics in 1977. This lawless shirt outlined the start of her and her partner’s brand known for the “punk” politics. The tee was meant to challenge fascist ideologies, status quo and illustrate standing up to the older generation and dictators.
Both Katherine and Vivienne have cleverly utilised t-shirt as a medium to show their political and social standing, opening up a debate. And only here you can start questioning the effectiveness of two things: wearing a politically charged t-shirt and opening up a debate. But let me ask you one thing, isn’t silence – the accomplice of the abuser? Of course, unless your silence is hiding hate comments.
“The T-shirt has taken on a role as a signifier, a statement of intent for the wearer,” says Dennis Nothdruft the curator of T-shirt: Cult, Culture, Subversion exhibition in London. “It has developed an amazing power to communicate and to create a dialogue between the wearer and the world.”
Spreading the right message in public spaces might be just a temporary empowerment… And of course, merely wearing a T-shirt won’t change anything, unless it’s going to be followed up with an effective call to action. But opening up a dialogue is, without a doubt, an important first step towards a better future. Inequality, misrepresentation, poverty and other constructs that continue to exist, illustrate that there’re still so many things we need to improve and fight against.
Sarah Mower wrote in the February issue of Vogue: “as the lids are blown off in all directions on sexual harassment, racial injustice, gender pay inequality, the rolling back of women’s rights, the gap between rich and poor… fashion (or clothing; we can debate what we should call it) isn’t on the sidelines in this: it’s a constant ally in times of trouble, a medium open to infinite nuances of meaning in the hands of ingenious people to show their beliefs.”
So why “Make Acid Great Again”? Because inequality in all forms continues to exist. Because not having an opinion is making you part of the problem. Because by merely showcasing your political and social stance you are taking a first step towards the better future. And as history show us, t-shirts seem to be a fantastic medium for powerful messages. Start here!