This year, for the first time ever, I made a placard. I’m no stranger to a protest march, but banner waving is a whole new world for me. And in something of a U-turn, my policy on wearing T-shirts with a logo beyond a certain age has also been reviewed: no one is beyond a spot of sloganeering. Just ask the first female artistic director at Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri, who grabbed the headlines when she sent “We Should All Be Feminists” T-shirts down the spring/summer 2017 runway. Based on the book of the Ted Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Instagram-friendly, limited edition garment (£490, with a portion of the proceeds going to Rihanna’s Clara Lionel Foundation) soon developed a celebrity following and a waiting list.
Adichie has since said that the thought of being a feminist cheerleader makes her cringe, but female designers are picking up the mantle and have made sartorial political statements à la mode. At the autumn/winter 2017 Milan shows in February, Donatella Versace sent out a clear message by decorating shirts (from £610), beanie hats (from £230) and bodycon dresses (from £1,260) with the words “Equality”, “Strength”, “Love” and “Unity”, while Missoni showed solidarity by parading its models in pink knitted hats (£175) reminiscent of those worn on the Women’s March on Washington at the start of this year.
Making a statement has become so popular that slogan T-shirt and sweatshirt e-shop The FMLY Store has recently opened a bricks and mortar shop in Bruton, Somerset. Giving something back is part of the ethos of the brand – founded by former fashion journalist Molly Gunn and her music producer husband Tom Mangan – and as of February this year its “Good Tees” had raised around £515,500 for charity. Launched to coincide with International Women’s Day, the first run of the “We Are All Wonder Women” sweatshirt (£50, made from organic cotton) sold out within a week, with £10 from each sale going to the charity Mothers2Mothers, which supports mothers and babies with HIV.
Bella Freud’s slogan sweaters, worn by the likes of Kate Moss and Alexa Chung, have become cult classics. Freud often references music, art and psychoanalysis – a family business – in her work. The merino wool “Her” sweater and “Libertas” chain stitch jumper (both £280) are this year’s standouts, and Freud’s 1970 jumper (from £280) continues to trend on Instagram (apparently there’s no significance to the date and the numbers just look graphically good together, though I suspect that the 1970s being a rich, counter-cultural decade has helped the sweater’s popularity).
Indeed, those who were around in the ’70s will remember Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s punk T-shirts (with their penchant for obscene images and offensive words). And while getting it off your chest/on your chest is not a completely new phenomenon – British designer Katharine Hamnett wore a T-shirt bearing the slogan “58% Don’t Want Pershing” (a reference to US missiles being based in the UK) when she went to meet Margaret Thatcher at Downing Street in 1984 – today’s social media buzz means that attention-grabbing visuals and memorable mantras quickly go viral, as Gunn of The FMLY Store attests: “We ask our customers to 'wear and share' on social media, and this sharing ethos has not only spread the word but helped our brand grow. Instagram and Facebook are amazing, free ways for us to connect with our audience every day.”
The writing’s on the T-shirt – this is the chic way to get a message across this season.
Alyson Walsh is the author of Style Forever: The Grown-Up Guide to Looking Fabulous, published by Hardie Grant. She blogs at That’s Not My Age. To read more of her How To Spend It columns, click here.