Why do we wear words on our clothing?
My favourite forms of self-expression are words and fashion. So lately I’ve been thinking a lot about where the two intersect, starting specifically with slogan tees. As a kid I haaaated anything with writing on it unless it was a band t-shirt or a brand name I considered to be a part of my identity vibez. Then as my tits grew I wasn’t about to hide them behind a cutesy-coy-girly phrase like “Sunday dreamer” or “girl power”. I always had a figurative toothpaste stain about the layered hypocrisy of it. Firstly, the words were almost always tired clichés. Secondly, the usual positioning of a phrase across the chest is a pervy patriarchal dream… I’m surprised someone didn’t think to use the nipples to dot the i’s. Thirdly, I get specifically irritated by large companies selling pseudofeminism. According to the likes of H&M you can only be a “#feminist” if you come in sizes 6-14 and like baby pink. It’s the same jaded shade of capitalist rhetoric churned out according to what’s on trend.
But not all tops are political. Some have the names of cities, mantras, life affirmations, puns… Buying clothes is a bit like a competitive sport and I want to explore the rules of it. If you’re reading this (well of course you are, you’re right here), I want you to think about a piece of clothing you own with some wording on it. Why did you buy it? Do you wear it because you saw someone else in it? Do the words hold special personal value to you? Does something inside you change when you put it on? Does anyone ever actually ask themselves “what am I trying to say when I wear these words”? Or is it just me?
So the question I’ve been asking myself is: where can I / my work sit within this narrative? For my Metal residency, I want to get into the minds of other womxn and unpick their relationships with their identity, their clothing, and the role clothes with words on play in their lives. I’m hoping to uncover some juicy ideas through independent research and having a girly zoom chat (look out on Metal’s pages for deets).
I’ve also always fantasised about one day creating a collection of wearable poetry. I just think it’d be much cooler than a book. So for the residency I’m also playing around with ideas of how to bring this concept to life, and start to learn about things like typography, sewing, and printing/drawing on fabric. Basically I’ve set myself a Drag Race Maxi Challenge but I’m Shangela and the bitch can’t sew.
The first task I set myself was to look at a few online clothing shops (asos, prettylittlething, boohoo.com) and make a cut-up powm out of the slogan tees they’re selling rn. It’s essentially an investigation into what I believe is this strange pseudofeminist trend. A lot of the phrases are attempts to reclaim womanhood by subverting the language used to insult us – basic bitch, playboy, stay in your lane. Others are more positive affirmations – love yourself, be kind. But there is still a sinister feeling when looking at them all, which I can’t shake. These brands are telling us how to be a woman. Supporting big companies with questionable ethics (such as model choices, paying workers unfairly, etc) by buying a t-shirt with a statement which seemingly supports inclusive, feminist ideas feels problematic to me. It feels a bit like buying a football shirt to support your club then starting a fight with the other team. What are we really tryna say when we buy and wear these clothes? Look at me? There’s still so much more to discover and unpack, that’s for sure. Here’s what I came up with.