Go There, Get The T-Shirt At This Excellent Exhibition On A Simple Garment

T-shirt, Fashion & Textile Museum ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 60 months ago

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Go There, Get The T-Shirt At This Excellent Exhibition On A Simple Garment T-shirt, Fashion & Textile Museum 4
Protest slogans showcase the power of a simple message on a t-shirt.

'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.

Fashion labels do occur, but thankfully only a small part of the show dedicated to them.

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'.

We really enjoyed this project of photographing t-shirt wearers from behind so the t-shirt message takes centre stage.

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 25 February 2018