In the 2018 fashion scene, what you’re wearing is either conformity or rebellion. Laws of fashion hold us to this standard, but in wake of changes in political climate, tensions in our government are shaping the fashion world as well. Or rather, the fashion world is contributing to the shape politics are taking today. With primaries under our belts, midterms on the horizon and a new Supreme Court Justice sworn in, among other world altering events, it seems as though we will never be able to keep up with these variations and their effects on our political system. As new movements and conflicts rise and fall, the fashion world follows suit. And although hard to believe, new trends in everyday fashion are seriously impacting politics and how we share our views, as we can quite literally wear our opinions on our sleeves.
The prominence of the t-shirt has been present in fashion since the beginning of time. Its simplicity, practicality and comfort have upheld this iconic design as a staple in style and fashion. But, as fashion has evolved and trends have changed, so has the t-shirt. In recent years, graphic tees have centered themselves as a pinnacle of a very curated, eclectic, carefree aesthetic. Starting in the ’70s with the popularity of repping band logos, the graphic tee has since only evolved to reach corners of all industries beyond just music.
They have worked their way into everyday wardrobes, they can be dressed up or down and there is certainly no limit to content that can be printed on a t-shirt. In just single stores alone, whole sections have become dedicated to the trend of graphic tees. The curated aesthetic created by centering an outfit around a graphic tee is one many teens and young people strive for, sometimes perhaps without even realizing what message they are sending by wearing certain graphics. As graphics have seeped their way into the closets of style gurus everywhere, so they have also headed up many political movements, completely altering the way these movements are viewed.
The clearest example has to be the women’s movement. In the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, tees imprinted with “Nasty Woman”, “Raise Boys and Girls the Same Way” and “This Pussy Grabs Back” made the amount of voice coming from the event almost double, as the presence of these words on shirts serve as a constant visual reminder of these women’s rightfully justified angerwith our government and president in addition to their conversations surrounding gender equality in politics.
We see these graphics stating “Black Lives Matter,” “#MeToo,” the LGBTQ movement and even the t-shirt Frank Ocean wore to the Panorama Music festival called on audiences to just be quiet before being racist, sexist or homophobic.
These examples don’t cover even half of the political content that graphic tees have begun to cover in recent years. It is a beautiful concept, to have the ability to take ownership over one’s political views and raise awareness about movements for change is an extremely empowering concept, one that is allowing more and more people to be included in the groups represented by these shirts and graphics. To be able to incorporate political views into everyday wardrobe truly combines the best of both politics and fashion, but while this stylish alternative seems oh-so-chic, there’s a fine line between the intersectionalities that lie within this incorporation of graphics and politics that can make for a challenging difference between representing political views and movements and just wearing certain tops as an accessory rather than for raising actual awareness and culminating change.
Graphic tees serve as a great opportunity for raising political awareness, but with so many of them circulating the fashion world, the purpose of this fashion staple has very quickly become more of a solely aesthetic choice or form of bandwagoning as opposed to an actual effort to benefit political movements. The consumer or producer cannot take the blame for this strange cycle; it’s practically impossible to avoid when stores like Urban Outfitters have added “Vote” tees to their graphic tee collection, inviting young people to start purchasing them, with half of them not even sure if they’re registered to vote. Graphic tees make it so easy to get behind a moment, creating a challenging double-edged sword to grapple with. To truly take ownership and proudly wear a “Nasty Woman” t-shirt, be prepared to vote, participate in marches and stay in the loop about current events is completely different from purchasing the shirt solely because you saw another girl looking cute in it on Instagram. With social media shaping politics, there is a certain vulnerability that comes with sharing political views or rallying behind movements. Sometimes it can make people feel as though they need to prove themselves in a certain way, hence causing over-compensation in items like graphic tees for various movements, even if it isn’t something the person is completely invested or educated in.
Both extremely powerful tools in society, fashion and social media are truly influencing the way we perceive politics. With both of these platforms, we as individuals are now, more than ever, more capable of making politics an inclusive topic, one where we can help others learn about things they might not be as familiar with in order to benefit the greater good and truly change our government. So let’s selectively choose those graphic tees, and curate them to things we truly know about, encouraging our friends to become politically aware and create inclusive spaces in a field that can sometimes seem so uninviting and confusing. Let us fashionably make a change in politics.