Tee Time: History Of The Slogan T-shirt

You go home, open your closet and pull out that favorite t-shirt. Hold it up as the cotton feels so yummy and worn out since you’ve been wearing it forever. That t-shirt has the power to connect you to your past, an amazing summer spent away, maybe a great concert you attended, maybe it reminds you of a journey you took travelling across the country or a lost love! 

The Origin & Katherine Hamnett

From being an undergarment that was worn underneath jackets to breaking taboos and becoming mainstream pop culture of the youth, t-shirts have been a revolution in themselves. When two pop culture icons like Marlon Brando & James Dean wore a plain white t-shirt in the movies, it became a symbol of rebellion and the youth embraced it. Brands & companies didn’t take too long to plaster their logos on them, basically making the t-shirts – walking billboards! Now when trends become mainstream, ‘reinvention’ happens. From a basic white, t-shirts finally get ink and as the ink arrived, one such reinvention happened with the SLOGAN T-SHIRTS!

From the beginning, t-shirts have always been a medium of self-expression or advertising which is true even today. Starting in the 1960’s, t-shirts were sometimes used to market consumer products like Coca-cola or Mickey Mouse and other times to advertise or celebrate and important event. They were also beginning to be used to make a strong political or personal statement. This resulted in the onset of Slogan T-shirts & the revolution that began. 

One of the most fascinating stories of the origin of slogan t-shirts revolves around a woman who reinvented the conventional tee & pioneered the new t-shirt trend with large printed slogans. In 1983, British fashion designer Katherine Hamnett felt she could use the industry she worked in to her advantage and use it as an expression of powerful social and political messages. Inspired by the attention-grabbing bold typography of the tabloid headlines, she plastered the words ‘Choose Life’ on a plain oversized white t-shirt. From the Buddhist philosophy, the slogan was a comment against war, death & destruction and was first popularly seen in the music video for ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ by the music group ‘Wham!’. Within a year, Katherine made 5 more graphic slogan tees, one of them seen wearing by the band Queen. Others soon followed her lead and there was a surge of slogan tees all around. 

Another important anecdote recalls Hamnett being invited to a London Fashion Week reception with the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She executed the most badass move when she chose to wear one of her slogan t-shirts to the event that said ‘58% don’t want pershing’ – a comment against the installation of U.S. missiles in the U.K. She initially covered the tee with a jacket but opened it as she shook hands with Thatcher so that the paparazzi could capture the moment!

Katherine is still best known for giving the T-shirts their first political makeover. She viewed her t-shirts as a way to get strong social messages across. She said, “If you want to get the message out there, you should print it in giant letters on a t-shirt.”

So that’s how T-shirts with bold slogans became popular. Even today, protest tees are everywhere. From feminist movements to capitalism, people wear their politics on their sleeves and sometimes at huge risks. Let’s look at the most iconic slogan t-shirts of all time:

I <3 NY

In 1977, to combat the falling tourism of the city, the New York Department of Commerce hired an advertising agency to create a marketing campaign. What turned out to be one of the most iconic marketing campaigns worldwide, the graphic designer Milton Glaser had a Eureka moment when her sketched I *heart* NY on a napkin in a taxi. 

Keep Calm & Carry On

Originally a motivational poster created by the British government during the preparation for World War 2. The slogan is displayed under a ‘Tudor Crown’ (symbol of the state). The poster was designed to strengthen the morale of the British in the wartime. Now popularly seen on t-shirts as a slogan, it has seen countless variations, sometimes even funny.

Nike’s Just Do It

Doubling up as an iconic t-shirt slogan apart from being the brand’s famous tagline. It is one of the most famous slogan t-shirts around the globe seen as a symbol of motivation to do just about any task. 

Frankie Say Relax

The phrase comes from a 1984 song by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The design was inspired by Katherine Hamnett’s trend of block lettered slogan t-shirts. The slogan saw more variations down the line. 

Think about what would be YOUR SLOGAN to go on your t-shirt. Or shop from our quirky slogan t-shirts on www.vajor.com



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