I can feel the ground shaking from the motion of my tumble dryer. I look into the clear door and see my t-shirts spinning round and round like erratic ghosts. Ghosts they can’t possibly be, but each piece seems to symbolise a specific feeling, spirit, moment, that leaves a discreetly lingering smile on your face. They have grown to be something we can’t live without. A simple crewneck can save you from monumental panic when dressing in the morning, or even one with your favourite band’s outdated tour schedule printed on the back, reminiscent of your first concert with your friends. A printed tee can trigger a world-changing idea. A perfect canvas for infinite possibilities. Besides its emotional value, the t-shirt has been used to promote many ideas, to celebrate self-expression, or as a united fronts. At T-Shirt: Cult – Culture – Subversion, the audience is given an in-depth dissection of the garment into 14 different stories with a greatly nostalgic playlist.
Overhead shot of the first floor.
The exhibition first greets you with a condensed timeline, explaining how the known t-shirt as changed over the years in terms of shape, material, production techniques, and digital practices. Also, the infamous rise of the slogan tee that explicitly displays an opinion or a political ideology, an ethical stance such as the House of Holland and BRITA collaboration or even Katherine Hamnett’s Choose Life range, can even break boundaries; this kind of top is a piece that can be worn differently by, and is available for, both genders. Exploring the private archive of a collector, roaming through the punk scene, and the collective spirit conveyed through a humble piece, set in stone the popularity of band t-shirts. From the Warhol-style banana for the Velvet Underground and Nico to the graphic line pulses for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, from a shared allegiance and backstage uniform to a fanatic item, re-appropriated into a pure fashion one, this casual piece is a treasure for versatility. Deeply embedded into pop culture history, the t-shirt has quickly become a big part of grunge, club culture, and streetwear, leading itself to make a lasting appearance on the catwalk – think Prabal Gurung’s support for women in his AW17 show.
As Vivienne Westwood said: ‘I use my fashion as a medium – I give my fashion shows titles like ‘plus 5 degrees’, which is the temperature that the world would become uninhabitable at. It looks good on a t-shirt and sends out a message […]’. Other creatives may choose a different path to examine the t-shirt, like Susan Barnett for instance. She’s known for photographing people’s backs on the streets, allowing them to stand or pose as they wish. As a result, her work is very much a projection of her subjects, curated and dictated by themselves. In her 65-photograph display from her book T: A Typology of T-shirts, the absence of the face puts more emphasis on the message of the t-shirt. From an ‘All Over Trump’, to a ‘Van Gogh Flowers’ to a ‘I’m Muslim Don’t Panik’, these 65 pieces are 65 responses (whimsical or not) to the contemporary climate, reflected through our wardrobe.
The sensational closet staple is clearly embraced by all. A simple cotton, linen, rayon, jersey, polyester blend that used to be an undergarment is now a top that people wear with pride. The canvas is an extension of people’s voices and memories, as well as one for the world, mirroring past, present, and future through cult, culture, and subversion.
To find out more about T-Shirt: Cult – Culture – Subversion, click here.
To find out more about the Fashion and Textile Museum, click here.