CULT ITEM: SLOGAN T-SHIRT
By Will Morley, 10 July 2017
Prints and graphics on tees can be traced back to the 30s, but it was with emblazoned calls to arms in the 60s that the slogan T-shirt really took off. Done right, this literal fashion statement can up your style game and be a useful political tool. Done wrong, it can be proof that nailing a dope slogan is harder than it looks. Most importantly, the slogan tee is not only an indication of your sartorial peccadilloes, but also a sign of the kind of dude you are – so maybe chuck that Inbetweeners ‘pussay patrol’ top.
One of the first wildly popular slogan tees arrived in 1972, when brothers Murray and Bernard Spain slapped a smiley face on a shirt and the phrase ‘Have a nice day’ (sorry, no, it wasn’t Forrest Gump who came up with the idea). The acid house scene of the late 80s co-opted the simple design for its resemblance to a pill but, arguably, Nirvana’s take on it – with crosses for eyes and a lolling tongue – is the most recognisable now. Justin Bieber repaid the repurposing favour, first rocking a Fear of God riff on a Nirvana tee, before unveiling his own line of Bieberised band merch.
Katharine Hamnett is the true queen of the slogan T-shirt. Remarkably simple in their execution, Hamnett’s white tees with a politicised phrase in black Helvetica Roman typeface have become a true fashion icon. Popularized by Wham! in their quaintly jubilant video for Wake Me Up Before You Go Go (tune!), the ‘Choose Life’ T-shirt’s original anti-drugs and suicide message seems slightly at odds with George Michael jitterbugging around with a feathered quiff and nuclear grade tan. You can cop Hamnett's newest 'Choose Love' design – a collaboration with the Help Refugees charity that sees of 100% of its profits go to help people caught up in the refugee crisis – in the 'shop the story' section below.
Hamnett is also often credited with the 1984 Frankie Goes To Hollywood ‘Frankie Say Relax’ shirts (factoid: genuine shirts are ‘say’, not ‘says’). In fact, they were actually knock-offs by the ZTT Record Company, encouraged by a quote from the designer saying she wanted her designs to be ‘ripped off’. ZTT weren’t the only record company in the slogan tee game: a few years before, new-wave label Stiff released their iconic ‘If It Ain’t Stiff It Ain’t Worth A F*ck’, and ‘When You Kill Time, You Murder Success’ designs. For the Stiff vibe, pair a tee with drainpipe denim, battered high-tops and swap a leather jacket for a fitted blazer.
Not every slogan T-shirt has to be clever, ironic or even make sense. Nor does it have to be a solid colour. Take this look from Tyler, The Creator (who named his clothing company Golf Wang not only because it swaps the letters of Wolf Gang, from his rap collective's 'Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All' moniker, but because the word Golf 'just looks sick') with a loose-fitting pink zebra-patterned shirt, green lettering and matching green cap. He looks so good, it’s easy to forgive he’s shamelessly wearing his own brand.
When it comes to statement dressing, slogans can create the right tone without you having to say anything at all (with your mouth, anyway). Just check out this short and sweet message from A$AP Rocky, if you need proof.