From pictures of Paris Hilton in the club wearing a “Stop being desperate” shirt to Frank Ocean stepping onto the stage in a shirt that asks “Why be racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic when you could just be quiet?” slogan t-shirts have long since acted as a means of communication. After all, why wait to share a message verbally when you can wear it on your clothing for everyone to see?
The slogan t-shirt has acted as a staple in pop culture for decades. Whether they are sharing a comical message, declaring a moral point, or commenting on an issue, these quick taglines on shirts allow people to get their point across to everyone who looks at them.
The 2000s were rich with slogan tees in pop culture. Britney Spears and Paris Hilton were just two of the Y2K icons wearing snarky comments on their shirts. Phrases like “Stop Being Desperate,” “Dump him,” and “I am the American dream” poked fun at their diva personas and gave the world something to gawk at. Each of these images has circulated social media countless times, with people appreciating the humor as much now as they did back then.
As a reaction to internet discourse surrounding nepotism in the entertainment industry, Hailey Bieber wore a “Nepo Baby” shirt for paparazzi to snap pictures of while she was out and about. This came directly after New York Magazine devoted an entire issue to nepotism babies, celebrities who found success with help from famous parents or relatives. The piece pointed out that Bieber not only has a famous family but also married someone with even higher levels of fame. Taking the nepo baby claims in stride, she poked fun at the discourse and wore it with pride.
Slogan t-shirts are not always this comical and light-hearted though.
One of the most iconic t-shirts ever created by the late Vivienne Westwood was one that said, “I am not a terrorist / please don’t arrest me” in childlike handwriting. The shirt was made in 2005 in collaboration with a civil rights organization and was a reaction to the UK’s proposed anti-terror legislation that would allow the government to detain people without charge. All of the profits made on the sale of this shirt were donated. This exemplified the power of a single t-shirt and the message it would spread just by simply wearing it.
In the last few years, there has been a presence of slogan tees supporting important causes on runways. Prabal Gurung F/W 2017 featured a model wearing a shirt that states, “Girls just want to have fundamental rights.” Playing on the phrase “girls just want to have fun,” the shirt came during a time when women’s rights were under attack and used the highly publicized platform to support the cause. In a similar vein, Dior S/S 2017 featured a t-shirt that said, “We should all be feminists.” While t-shirts are not something you see everyday on a runway, this was a quick way to inform audiences of the exact message they were attempting to get across.
It has become clear that the slogan t-shirt holds great power. In a world where people do not always want to listen, this clear mode of communication forces people to hear you regardless. Whether it is simply making a joke or declaring a political standpoint, there is nothing that a slogan tee can’t communicate.