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Last year, when Maria Grazia Chiuri made her debut at Dior with tees emblazoned with ‘Feminist’ and Prabal Gurung showcased similar t-shirts with political slogans, ‘I Am An Immigrant’ and ‘This Is What A Feminist Looks Like’, the online world was a-twitter with opinion. Although this development is important, I see that it was truly born with Chanel’s 2014 feminist protest runway show because that really pushed this particular subject of contention into the world of high fashion. What is most fascinating is the rapid growth and then steep decline of the fashion industry’s success at ‘being political’ and how ultimately, it’s the fault of the consumer. That’s us. It’s our fault.
Everywhere you look, one consistent trend across brands has been slogan tees. This summer, almost every high street store stocks tops with the sentiment of girl power. But do the girls that don these items know what they are representing? Are these brands really about feminism or are they capitalising on the buzz for the benefit of their bottom line? (At this point, you must think I am the most cynical fashion blogger out there. You may be right). Of course, everyone regardless of gender has the immediate right to claim to be a feminist. Even brands don’t need permission. And that’s because feminism is not just a socio-political issue but a personal one. However, the meaning of the slogan t-shirt is no longer what it once was and the same goes for the words or images written on them.
I remember when I was 10, during mufti day (where you wear your own clothes to school instead of uniform) some kids wore Nirvana badges on their backpacks and Linkin Park t-shirts. Back then, what you wore represented your identity and this was reflected in nearly every part of your lifestyle – yes, even as pre-pubescent kids. My friends that were into rock music were committed to the stereotypical aesthetic. Even their had Sims characters looked deficient in Vitamin D, undernourished and wore a lot of black eyeliner. Style and appearance was not as fluid then as it is now. As we’ve grown up, we no longer strictly align ourselves with just one genre of music or style of dress, we don’t pigeon hole ourselves. We hate labels. We hate the question, ‘describe yourself in three words’. Therefore, we wear our cute slogan tees without taking its message
too seriously. ‘The Future Is Female’ and ‘Femme Forever’ tees can be meaningful to us today, particularly so yesterday when Trump said something sexist – but slightly less relevant tomorrow, when we have to think about work deadlines and how late we’ll be to our friend’s birthday. Is this okay? Is this a case of ‘you do you’ or are we missing the point?
Imagery, symbols, words – how interchangeable are they? If we look at the satirisation of branding in fashion, the first thing that comes to mind is the cult DHL t-shirt from Vetements. Although I suspect that the intention of Demna Gvasalia (who also heads up Balenciaga and is responsible for that ‘IKEA’ bag) was to be a rebel in the world of luxury, his place on the fashion pyramid meant that instead, people were lapping it up. Like that scene in White Chicks when the twins walk out in swan costumes a-la-Bjork and everyone loves it. The success of subversive fashion is not a surprise. More affordable pieces such as Bleached Good’s sell-out tees that appropriated iconic band t-shirts along with the likes of Chanel and Dior, became absolute must-haves. Those orange jumpers that mimicked Hermes’s branding with the word ‘Homies’ were very popular – and for far too long.
What are we to make of all of this? When girls wear Metallica and Thrasher tees for the sake of it, listening to Justin Bieber and with Kylie’s Lip Kit painted on, I wince a little. To me that’s the equivalent of someone in the early 2000’s showing off a tattoo of a Chinese character, when they think it means ‘love’ but it really says ‘cabbage’ or something. But you know, I really do take things way too seriously and am probably too judgemental for my own good. However, when it comes to wearing t-shirts in the name of feminism, I must admit it bothers me even more than wearing the t-shirt of a band whose bass player you can’t name. Most of the girls that buy that Dior, Zara or Na-kd t-shirt, don’t know what they are representing. Am I neurotic or is this a real problem, especially when women died for us to be able to vote, wear what we want and attend higher education if we so choose? It doesn’t take a member of the intellectual elite to articulate what an individual stands for and why you’re wearing a symbol of political defiance on your chest. It takes a Google Search and some empathy.
Nasty Gal t-shirt and glasses
Delphine The Label dress