I loved wearing statement t-shirts as a teenager in the 1990s, silently rebelling (or, in reality, fitting in) as I walked through the overcrowded halls of my middle and high schools. As I got older, the thought of posting my political beliefs in full view seemed inappropriate, even obnoxious, in the places that I frequent. But as Fashion Revolution Week begins April 18th, I’m thinking more and more about statement tees these days.
I’ve worn my clothing inside out to draw attention to the artisans that made it, and I wear ethical clothing every single day. Occasionally, I’m able to spark a conversation when someone asks about a piece, but it doesn’t happen that often in public. Statement tees, always in style, seem like the perfect chance to share a quick image with a bit of information that might stick in someone’s mind.
British designer Katharine Hamnett started the political t-shirt trend in the early 1980s, and her pieces were quickly copied and co-opted by different movements (“Frankie Say Relax” was a favorite dupe). She was one of the world’s first truly ethical clothing designers, and you can read more about her in this fascinating 2013 interview. Hamnett was honored by Queen Elizabeth II in 2011, years after wearing a political tee to meet Margaret Thatcher, and in more recent years, she has come under fire for criticizing the policies of former Prime Minister Tony Blair. She is proof that fashion holds a lot of power and influence, and the political t-shirt is Hamnett’s weapon.
(In a bit of Fashion Revolution-related news, clothing retailer H&M has announced a clothing recycling campaign set to begin the week of April 18th. Critics call this corporate greenwashing, and Fashion Revolution has responded.)