Go There, Get The T-Shirt At This Excellent Exhibition On A Simple Garment
'I'm a Muslim, don't panic'. The Starship Enterprise. 'J'Adore Dior'. TheWu-Tang Clan symbol. What links all of these is that they appear on t-shirts in this stylish exhibition at the Fashion & Textile Museum.
A t-shirt is possibly the most ubiquitous fashion item in the world — we all own many t-shirts, nearly every shop and event sells them and on the rare occasion you can't find one with the design you'd like, it's pretty cheap to make your own. A t-shirt can show off your favourite band, film or artwork, it can carry a message of protest or let others know where you work — we wear our Londonist t-shirts with pride.
The history of this humble garment goes back to 500AD with the first recorded t-shirt shaped tunic, right through to emojis appearing on t-shirts today. Given that emojis are used to convey emotions online, where we don't have the capability to express ourselves, the need to put one on a t-shirt feels pointless — but then, who are we to question freedom of expression.
It's impossible to cover the full history of t-shirts, but what this exhibition does do is cram in hundreds of designs for a rapid tour through fashion, music, protest, art and popular culture. The simple power of a worn message comes through in t-shirts bearing important messages such 'don't shoot', 'no more page three' and 'this is what a feminist looks like' — each one triggering memories of the movements that brought them to prominence.
The soundtrack playing over the exhibition reminding us to 'express yourself' and stating the 'revolution will not be televised' is a fitting touch, adding to the atmosphere of both the freedom and the power imbued into a simple piece of clothing.
A photographic series by Susan Barnett is the pinnacle of this show. She's catalogued a series of t-shirts with a simple format of the t-shirt pictured from behind with a blue sky overhead. It's a great role reversal where the wearer's face isn't visible so they become passive and the t-shirt becomes the focus of each image instead. We're left to decode the personalities of the wearer based purely on whether they're choosing to wear a t-shirt with Vermeer's girl with a pearl earring or the simple message of 'Don't be a dick'.
This exhibition is an engaging take on a piece of clothing we often take for granted. We've been and got the t-shirt, now it's your turn.
T-shirt: Cult - Culture - Subversion at Fashion & Textile Museum is on until 6 May 2018. Tickets are £9.90 for adults.
Last Updated 12 February 2018