The idea of printing onto fabric, has been around some 1800 years when silk printing was developed in China. It was only in the 1960s, through the technological advance of screen printing, that it was possible to print economically onto T Shirts, and remember that the T Shirt itself had only been around since the 1940’s. With the advance in Litho printing that enabled lower cost printing of magazines at the same time in the 60’s it became an age of the democratisation of print. A message, and mor importantly, a political or social slogan, could be applied to the most basic garment and broadcast to the world.
The Mr Freedom store on London’s Kings Road, the creation of Tommy Roberts and Trevor Myles sold Disney Theme prints which though not slogan T-shirts, were the forerunner of the genre. The seventies saw Vivienne Westwood take up the torch and into the eighties, when arguably the most famous protagonist of the walking political placard, Katherine Hamnett put ink to cotton.
More recent renditions including Repeal and The Future is Female all continue the lineage of the slogan T-shirt.
Read up about the prints that made it onto the chest, in our blog post.
The idea of sharing a social or political message on your chest might seem like a more recent phenomenon but the origins lay back in the 1960s.
MR FREEDOM DISNEY
Not exactly a Slogan T-shirt but the idea of the printed T-shirt as a statement fashion item and very often with irony, started here, The Mr Freedom store on London’s Kings Road, the creation of Tommy Roberts and Trevor Myles brought printed T-shirts to the forefront of the swinging London fashion scene.
YOU ARE HERE
In 1971 shortly after moving to New York City, John Lennon appeared at a benefit gig for families of inmates killed in the infamous Attica prison uprising wearing the ‘You Are Here’ T-shirt. Designed by Yoko Ono the T-shirt was a statement of their life philosophy – Live in the Moment, You Are Here. This phrase was also used as the title of one of Yoko’s art exhibitions. Two years later, Lennon included a track called ‘You Are Here’ on the Mind Games album. A lading contender for the original slogan T-shirt.
One of the most famous Slogan T-shirts. Designer Katherine Hamnett produced the oversize white shirt with bold oversize slogan print. George Michael and Wham are not who you might expect here at Underground, but the iconic images of them in the T-shirts in the eighties in the context of the blog is good reason.
The Choose Love version from Hamnett took on a more serious tone to help refugees.
58% DON’T WANT PERSHING
At the height of the Cold War American nuclear missiles based in the UK were the subject of protest and rally including the Greenham Common peace camps. Invited to a swanky 10 Downing Street event, designer Kathrine Hamnett used the opportunity to deliver the message to Premier Margaret Thatcher producing an iconic and almost surreal photo of the occasion.
FRANKIE SAYS RELAX
The 1984 song “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood was heavily censored on TV and Radio on account of the lyrics. Taking advantage of the publicity around the censorship and sidestepping the audio ban label owner Paul Morley simply put the words to print with the T-shirt and vest blazing out at full volume “FRANKIE SAY RELAX.” Morley admitted that it had been inspired by Hammett’s design, who herself had said that she welcomed others copying the slogan idea. What appears to be simple bold oversize graphics was actually a design feat and the block print idea inspired by the “58% Pershing” has actually become a graphic design inspiration.
VOTE FOR PEDRO
Quirky 2004 indie comedy Napoleon Dynamite sees two weirdo teens, Napoleon, the awkward unhip high school kid, and Pedro the solitary non-white kid with the former leading the campaign for the latter’s bid to win election as student-body president.
Wearing the campaign T-shirt, Napoleon performs an iconic dance in front of the school with the classic T-shirt taking centre stage. More of a fictional slogan T-shirt it, nevertheless, became a classic piece of 2000s print wear.
THE FUTURE IS FEMALE
The original “The Future Is Female” T-shirt design was made for Labyris Books, the first women’s bookstore in New York City, which was opened in 1972 by Jane Lurie and Marizel Rios. The photographer Liza Cowan took a picture of musician Alix Dobkin, her girlfriend at the time, wearing it in 1975.
It was remade by Rachel Berks who runs Otherwild, a shop in New York and Los Angeles. Otherwild is committed to utilizing our resources to provide sustained support for our staff, vendors, and suppliers, as well as to grassroots activist and social justice organizations and via direct grants to makers through Anotherwild Fund.
THE PLAIN WHITE T-SHIRT
And a very special mention- let’s not forget this T-shirt- without which none of this would be possible. The plain white T-shirt, originally worn by the US Marines under their uniforms in the Pacific from 1942, is one of the simplest pieces of fashion. Worn by Marlon Brando and James Dean it was, despite its simplicity, a statement of rebelliousness, defying all conventions and trends.
Most importantly it has given us the canvas for the slogan T-shirt.
The Vulture T-shirt, An Americana sports T was given to Debbi Harry by one of Chris Stein’s oldest friends. Not exactly a slogan T-shirt, but it is certainly iconic and forever associated to the legendary Blondie singer.
JESUS IS MY HOMEBOY
In an LA parking lot in the 1980s, a young gang attacked Van Zan Frater. Beaten to the ground one of the boys held a gun to Frater’s head and the others urged him on “Kill him, homeboy!” Frater was quick to use the language of the gang and appealed to them, “Jesus is my homeboy, and he’s your homeboy too!” The boy let him go!
Recovering from his ordeal, Frater designed the “Jesus is my Homeboy” image, a man without race or creed with upturned palms and the face of Jesus and it was used for Peace conferences that he promoted and printed onto a T-shirt. During the 1992 LA race riots, the silkscreen was stolen from the print shop and 10 years later was discovered in a bric-a -brac store and reproduced commercially ending up on the likes of 2000’s celebrities including Ashton Kutcher and Pamela Anderson and mor recently by Kanye West.
These days its back in the hands of Frater at www.jesusismyhomeboy.com
NEW YORK CITY
One of the most iconic images of John Lennon sees him in 1974 in a New York City ringer tee with the sleeves cut off. Lennon, mixing Walls and Bridges, his fifth solo album and needed some shots for the cover and press. Lennon asked Bob Gruen, his personal photographer and close friend to take the shots on the roof of his East 52nd Street penthouse. Gruen asked John to wear the New York City shirt he had just bought on the sidewalk for $5 with the sleeves cut off. Not really a Slogan T-shirt but has to be included for its simplicity- a sidewalk souvenir turned cool T-shirt with a roll of film.
Designed by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, the Seditionaries T-shirt featured a bold red Nazi swastika, an inverted image of Christ on the cross, the word “DESTROY,” and Sex Pistols lyrics. Hugely controversial on account of the Swastika that had and still retains the image of horror and evil, the purpose was to stand up to tyrants’ dictators the world, such as Chile’s Augusto Pinochet. It was also carrying the message “We don’t accept your values or your taboos, and you’re all fascists.” The shirt was sold at Vivienne Westwood’s iconic SEX store on the King’s Road.
The Eighth Amendment of the Irish constitution was a law passed in 1983 which outlawed abortion in Ireland forcing women to travel outside of the country for abortion.
The campaign to repeal the law was bolstered by Anna Cosgrave who created a T-shirt that simply stated REPEAL white on the black T. The jumpers were described by Cosgrave as ‘an outerwear project meant to give voice to a hidden problem’,
Six members of the AAA-PBP alliance (Anti-Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit) wore the ‘Repeal’ sweatshirts in the Dáil, the Irish parliament, to support women’s abortion rights calling on the Irish Prime Minister to repeal the law. The campaign led to a referendum, with the outcome a vote to Repeal the law.
The main image from our post features @thnicestisis
ALL THE CLUBS HAVE BEEN CLOSED DOWN
The All The Clubs Have Been Closed Down T-shirt from the Halfmoon collection was a rallying cry to support the clubs and venues that are the lifeblood of the music and entertainment industry. With property developers taking hold of the properties that were often in secondary locations the clubs were unable to afford the new rents that were being asked for with conversion to apartments offering a better return. Coupled with restrictions and enforcement from local authorities and the police many clubs and venues were being forced to close down. Referencing the 1981 Specials “Ghost Town” the slogan was a call to arms- Support the local clubs and venues!
I’M A MESS
The story starts in the Isle of Wight in 1975 with the band Stormtrooper who had put together a demo tape that was rejected by the record companies. By December ’75, with finances running out and the record company rejections ending any hope for their future, they split.
That wasn’t the end. Two years later with Punk on a role the band pulled out the track I’m a Mess. It had been written in 1973 and was part of the four-track demo tape that had been doing the rounds unsuccessfully in 1975. Not written as a Punk track, they were a hard rock band after all, it just seems to possess all the right ingredients needed at that time. It was noisy, and the lyrics were right on course for punkdom. In 1977 the band put together the money to self-finance the release on Solent Records. It sold a few thousand copies and included a pin badge “I’m a Mess “as part of the promo.
The badge? Well, that ended up on the lapel of Sid Viscous on the infamous and ill-fated ’78 tour of America.
The T-shirt? It seemed right to move it on a stage and the 2018 Halfmoon T-shirt found a new place for the irreverent slogan
NHS by SPORTS BANGER
Sports Banger, The Bootleg fashion house run by Jonny Banger has a social purpose interwoven with the business. The 2015 NHS T-shirt (and hoody) was an amalgam of the famous Blue NHS logo and a distinctive sport inspired swoosh and was designed to help support the Junior Doctors strike. The role of the NHS during the pandemic saw the T-shirt return lending financial and much needed morale support to the beleaguered health service. Ignoring the threats from trademark lawyers the design has become a classic T-shirt with a cause
STOP INDUSTRIAL FISHING
The fight continues. Vivienne Westwood designed the Stop Industrial Fishing t-shirt, for Project Zero. Supporting #ONEOCEANONEPLANET movement to help the fight for the ocean, the T-shirt is a continuation of the work of Westwood to project a social message through the brand.
Underground Soundwave presents an ongoing series of reports on emerging and established bands with close-up Q&As, new release reviews and gig reports with a special emphasis on supporting diversity in music, women in music, independent labels and venues and the local music scene.
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