Sunday, 18 June 2017

13. Slogan T-shirts

Slogan t-shirts are in.

Due to my ceaseless following of fashion (I walked down Croydon high-street the other day), I can confirm that the fashion mags are not wrong about this.

What's apparent is that things have really stepped up a gear since my youth. When I was nine I had a baby-blue dress with the word “BABE” blazoned across my non-existent chest. I don’t remember slogans getting much more deep than that.

Now, a slogan is nothing if it doesn't seek to change the world. Fashion designers know this. Just check out Dior's famous "We should all be feminists" t-shirt, a real below to misogynists everywhere (at $700 a pop). At the cheaper end, head to Topshop, who offer a range of political or feminist slogans including: "Make a stand", "Love will save us", "VOTE", "Save the future", "Females of the future", "Real girls bite back", "Not your honey", "Femme forever" and, somewhat conversely, "Not my problem".

The concept isn’t new. Think back to MP Caroline Lucas' “No More Page Three” top or Harriet Harman's “This is what a feminist looks like”. More recently the US election spawned "I'm with her" t-shirts.

What's new is the sheer popularity of the tops and the fact that most of them aren't linked to a particular issue. Instead, for our convenience, they offer all-encompassing, meaningless phrases for everyday wear.

The Topshop website is where the power of a political slogan goes to die (a loud and shouty death). Unless you’re doing something radical in your t-shirt, you look like someone wearing a radical t-shirt while doing nothing radical. It's a bit like those pre-printed birthday cards for people too lazy to write. The bit on the inside that says "Have an amazing day!" carries zero emotion or meaning because it's been printed on thousands of generic, mass-produced bits of paper. At least with those cards, no one reads the printed words. When that empty message is plastered across your chest, people will read it, and they may judge accordingly.

These t-shirts are popular because popular people are wearing them, not becasue of some burgeoning political-consciousness in today's youth. Thousands of girls and boys, strolling the streets of England in these t-shirts, might suggest there's a movement afoot, a new generation with things to say, but I don't buy it. I wonder if women in the clothing factories of China or Bangladesh, working for low-pay and in poor conditions, laugh and shake their heads as they make t-shirts for rich, western girls, printed with the words "Love will save us". More likely they don’t raise an eyebrow; they’re used to empty words.

Some of the slogans flogged by top designers are plain irritating. A recent article in Vogue informed me that Henry Holland's' "I’d Get on All Fours for Michael Kors" shirt, "guarantees a smile". To me it suggests that the wearer is willing to take it from behind by a fashion designer, simply because his name is stamped on the bag of every lady in London. It also suggests that the wearer wants people to know that she has money. But isn't that the point of Michael Kors bags anyway, so I guess it links rather nicely.

I've read quotes from several top designers and magazine editors, claiming that these t-shirts can make a difference; that they are important in a divided and fractured world. Frankly, I wish they'd stick to pretty clothes and give it a rest.

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