March 22, 1984 – Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher greets fashion designer Katharine Hamnett. (source: The Fashion and Textile Museum exhibition page).

If you are fortunate enough to live in London or if you plan to visit between now and May 6th, don’t miss the Fashion and Textile Museum’s exhibition: T-SHIRT: CULT – CULTURE – SUBVERSION – charting the history of “the most affordable and popular item of clothing on the planet.”

One fashion designer already knew the power of words on t-shirts.  In her 2016 debut with Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri included a simple white t-shirt with the words “We should all be feminists.” The quote had already made the rounds in elite social circles, sampled by Beyonce in Flawless. Today the #Metoo movement has resurrected the tee and made it the slogan of t-shirt entrepreneurs around the globe.

The Fashion and Textile Museum’s exhibition, however, downplays the part t-shirts have played in high-end fashion lines, referring to the event as highlighting “the multi-faceted role of this humble garment.” The timeline covers “men’s underclothes to symbol of rock and roll rebellion, through punk and politics to luxury fashion item, T-shirts broadcast who we are and who we want to be.”

In 1984, Designer Katharine Hamnett showed up at 10 Downing Street as a guest of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during London Fashion Week donning an oversized t-shirt and reminding Thatcher that 53 precent of Britain did not want to allow the U.S. to hide Pershing Missiles in the U.K. In 2003, she also added a politically charged t-shirt to her fashion line. A model wearing a shirt that said, “STOP WAR BLAIR OUT.” You might also recognize Hamnet’s t-shirt designers from Wham!’s music video, “Wake me up before you go go.”

The success of custom t-shirts as a messaging platform has been driven in part by musicians, artists, schools, restaurants, politicians, the list is endless and in each case, it is the ability for the shirt to be transported by an influential wearer into close knit groups or hard to reach audiences that is unique.

The Fashion and Textile Museum exhibition is open Tuesdays thru Saturdays, 11am to 6pm, February 9 to May 6.  The museum is located at 83 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XFpm.

If you’re ready to start your own revolution, get a free estimate from Scrappy Apparel.


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