482: Slogan Shirts

If there were one statement you wanted to wear around on a t-shirt every day, what would it be?

Full episode script

While it seems incredibly normal everyday wear, it has only been fairly recently that the T-shirt has become an acceptable thing to wear as anything but underwear. As with many things in fashion and culture, the two world wars had a big hand in making this button-less collared shirt a popular piece of clothing.

As Gizmodo put it:

By the time WWII started, the “modern” t-shirt had become commonplace in high schools and universities across the states, though it wasn’t yet ubiquitous and was still commonly worn by adults, at least, as an undershirt. (There were many exceptions, of course, particular among laborers in hot environments, such as farmers.) The final push for mainstream acceptance of the t-shirt as an outer garment started at the end of WWII, when soldiers returning home began incorporating them into their casual wardrobe, much in the same way they’d done during the war.

After T-shirts started to show up as casual wear, then they started becoming the canvas that brand messaging (Disney being one of the first) as well as social and political messages started showing up. Quoting from a 2018 Harper’s Bazaar article:

It all began in the 1960s when a shop called Mr Freedom on the King’s Road in Chelsea sold Disney-inspired slogan tees. Vivienne Westwood took the trend a step further the next decade with politically motivated T-shirts, but it was in the 1980s that the slogan tee really came into its own with Katharine Hamnett’s infamous designs.

“That T-shirt gave me a voice,” Hamnett said of the moment she shook hands with then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher while wearing a T-shirt that read ‘58% don’t want Pershing’, an anti-nuclear statement. That stunt made Hamnett’s T-shirts must-haves and the idea was copied everywhere.

“Slogans work on so many different levels; they’re almost subliminal. They’re also a way of people aligning themselves to a cause. They’re tribal. Wearing one is like branding yourself.”

And branding yourself can be a sticky political choice, There have been a number of Supreme Court cases regarding what is and isn’t acceptable and within the bounds of social contract. One of the more recent is Guiles v. Marineau, where a student who wore a T-shirt with President George Bush depicted as a chicken with an alcoholic drink in his wing-hand and cocaine paraphernalia was asked to change or cover the drug-related aspects of the shirt. The court eventually found that the school was illegally violating the student’s right to political expression in school.
This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.