The Blog

Style Soapbox: Slogan T-shirts

I have a confession. I've realised that one of my most-hated fashion crimes, was until not-so-long-ago one of my greatest fashion guilty pleasures. Something I couldn't help but love, I'm starting to love to hate.

I have a confession. I've realised that one of my most-hated fashion crimes, was until not-so-long-ago one of my greatest fashion guilty pleasures. Something I couldn't help but love, I'm starting to love to hate.

Yep, that's right - I'm up on my Style Soapbox to debate the demerits of the slogan T-shirt.

'Tell your boobs to stop staring at my eyes'

'Trust me, I'm a doctor'

'I'm kind of a big deal'

...and anything with a 'voices in my head' theme.

Offensive, crass and all kinds of un-funny, slogan T-shirts are presumed to be the unique fashion reserve of balding 40-something wannabe bikers and 14 year old girls attempting to subvert the strict sartorial rules enforced by their parents.

I feel like it's at this point I have to come clean, I've been known to wear words. Aged 16, and basking in the kind of teenage-male attention that only confident 16-year olds can attract, I used to love a grey cotton T-shirt that simply said 'Sorry, did I look like I was interested?'

Since then, I've becoming increasingly aware that there's nothing hilarious about these well-worn mantras. At best, they're eye-rollingly, skin-crawlingly cringe-inducing. But what happens at worst? What happens when the slogan T-shirt starts to cross the line?

Quite recently fashion feigned disapproval when Abercrombie & Fitch were forced to pull a T-shirt slamming Taylor Swift's ever-changing relationship status, after her fans went into defensive overdrive. I'd like to believe that most of the outrage was actually induced by the lacklustre attempt at being 'down with the kids' via a misplaced hashtag, but whatever - this slut-shaming, shiny sloganned cotton creation is no longer on the shelves.

Similarly, I remember a (perhaps more significant) uproar when TOPMAN presented in stores last year a painfully unfunny menswear T-shirt inquiring in chest-wide, all-caps lettering: 'Nice new girlfriend. What breed is she?' Failing to stop at simply being an offensively lame joke, this top went on to be outright offensive. Feminist communities internet-wide called for its removal, and TOPMAN complied - the T-shirts disappeared.

Thankfully, when big corporate retail businesses get it wrong the outcome is usually very similar to the stories I've just mentioned. The public, with its majority-ruled, collective, calm and responsible understanding of what can be deemed reasonable to wear across your chest, point out the lexical slip-up and the offending stock is simply spirited away. The problems really start to occur on the internet.

T-shirt printing is cheap, and it's an easy way to make money quickly. T-shirts can be printed with any slogan you like. Yes, anything! Literally, anything at all! Even 'Keep Calm and Rape On'! Or, 'Find > Abuse > Discard'! Maybe 'Fuck Africa's Debt'! Or what about 'Some People Are Only Alive Because It's Illegal to Kill Them'?!

These T-shirts are actually for sale, and are presumably bought and maybe even - one day, horror of horrors, actually worn. And worse? Those are only the few examples I could bring myself to repeat.

From extreme violence to sexism, via racism and plenty of inappropriate comments about mental health, the realm of the slogan T-shirt is has become the haven of society's very worst kind of human - the unreasonable type of person who lacks both the courage and the conviction to vocalise their ill-advised point of view in their own words, but can - thanks to these 'hilarious' slogan T-shirts - simply wear it instead.

There are two things I find distasteful about this type of T-shirt above all others. The first is obvious - and it's a question of audience. What you wear is seen, indiscriminately, by everybody you come into contact with, all day, every day. If you want to wear a crass, offensive and unfunny slogan splashed across your stomach, that is your choice to make - but perhaps give your audience a quick thought first. Is that joke about gay people really going to sit well with everyone on the High Street? Should you be wearing that T-shirt about domestic violence in public, whilst holding hands with your girlfriend?

The second problem is more serious - by printing these T-shirts, and selling them as 'jokes', the manufacturers encourage us to accept that these offensive, disturbing and upsetting affirmations are 'funny'. It's an amusing, witty and intelligent statement which will surely make the wearer seem like a light-hearted, entertaining kind of guy. A hilarious joke which perpetuates a culture of discrimination, alienation, abuse and violence.

I'm no longer a sucker for a slogan - it seems that even those which are apparently the most harmless ('I'm too pretty to do homework!') sit atop a heaped cotton-jersey mountain, at the bottom of which are racist jokes, affirmations of violence and mantras condoning sexual abuse.

Forgive me if I've simply suffered some kind of humour bypass, but I'm sure I'm not the only one struggling to see the punch line.