Is it a coincidence that political slogan tees grew massively in popularity amidst one of the most politically charged periods of our generation? Following the 2016 election of Donald Trump, socio-politically driven paraphernalia dominated all walks of fashion — from street style to the Autumn/Winter 2017 fashion week runways, where brands like Public School and Prabal Gurung used their runway shows to speak their piece about the flagrant social injustices that have become the norm of our society.
In the black community, this trend has been used to place iconic symbols of our own pop culture in the forefront. For us, slogan tees are much more than political statements. They are social indicators that pay homage to a culture that is often imitated for profit, but never truly understood.
During an era when being black is only cool from a distance, slogan tees have become a form of currency, communicating social ‘insiders’ explicitly to those who are truly members of the culture.
Take a closer look at Issa Rae in her HBO series Insecure, for example, whose character used political slogan tees to drive conversation within major story plot lines in nearly every episode.
On a grander scale, what are the social implications of political slogan tees? How does the act of people literally wearing their political/cultural views on their sleeves impact the way that people perceive one another and interact? More importantly, once we find our ‘tribes,’ can wearing political slogan tees create space for actual social change? After a day of wearing my first political slogan tee around Los Angeles, I discovered a phenomenon I’d like to call
The ‘Tribe’ Factor: the act of discovering unexpected people who share your socio-political views through non-verbal communication.
Read on to learn about my experience and its implications on the power of fashion (when used ethically) in the bigger picture of things.
My Experience with the ‘Tribe’ Factor
During a recent trip back home to NYC, I picked up a really dope political slogan t-shirt at Da Spot NYC created by Yes I Am, Inc. The shirt reads “Nah. – Rosa Parks.” A few weeks later, I decided to wear my new shirt for the first time during a day of errands in L.A. After a few too many long glances, I became very cognizant of my surroundings and privy to the reactions of people who noticed my shirt. But at the same time, I felt powerful knowing that my political views were immediately visible to people around me. I felt proud to be a representation of my heritage everywhere I went — whether people liked it, to not.
What I found most interesting was the way that the reactions around me changed depending on what area I was in.
When I went to a local diner in Culver City for breakfast, some people looked at me sideways with an uncomfortable dismissal, others were visibly amused, and some were seemingly offended.
Later that afternoon, I went into Starbucks and was immediately approached by a white male who complimented my shirt. Right after, I was approached by a young black female who kindly complimented my shirt too and asked me where I got it. All of this fuss caught the eye of an older white woman, who came up to me to read my shirt. This initial interaction with her led to an amazing 20 minute conversation about women’s rights and other social issues. She then connected me with an all-female social group who was planning a protest against a Ku Klux Klan rally happening the next day in Santa Monica (yes, because that is the world is coming to). The interaction was one of the most intriguing and enlightening that I’ve experienced with a stranger in my three years of living in L.A. and if I wasn’t wearing that shirt, it would’ve never happened.
While it may seem obvious that wearing a t-shirt with a politically striking message on it would strike up conversation and controversy, I can’t emphasize enough how intriguing it was to foster such meaningful engagements with the most unexpected people, just from wearing a shirt. It’s obvious that a political slogan tee that signals homage to civil rights will ignite kinship and conversation among members of the community. But taking it a step further, it provides the opportunity for ‘allies’ to show their support and for much needed conversations to be ignited.
That, in my opinion, is the true power of the ‘Tribe Factor” — identifying allies and counterparts who don’t necessarily fit a standard profile, but connect with your beliefs and train of thought in an actionable way.
To me, the ability to speak your truth through your style is much more powerful than any business card — especially if it has the potential to spark any level of social activism or change.
The Bigger Picture
We tend to experience fashion on a the surface-level, not thinking deeply enough about the implications behind what we wear, and how it impacts the world in a grander scale. Every purchase we make is feeding a machine. Many of us rely too heavily on feeding the unethical machine of fast fashion, which serves no other purpose but to create profitability for major fashion brands who are afraid or uninterested in taking a political stance against injustice. The viral popularity of political slogan tees signal the first step of us all reimagining our relationship with fashion and understanding its true power — not just in giving us a non-verbal voice to express our beliefs, but in allowing us to connect with like-minded people and companies that stimulate our culture. Consider looking at your fashion choices from the perspective of an art collector; each piece that you purchase inspires you, tells a bit about who you are, or speaks to what you care about. Now more than ever, it is imperative that we pay attention to how we represent ourselves, and our socio-political views in everything that we do.
Have you had a similar experience while wearing your favorite political tee? Share your experience in the comment section below!
* Some segments of this article are intentionally written in the first person. This is an op-ed that highlights the opinions of the author, and not solely facts *