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You Are What You Wear

Thoughts on the history of fashion as self-expression

For as long as the notion of fashion has existed, there have been those who are sworn functionalists – people who believe that the most important feature of the clothes they wear is their purpose. And then there are those who have fallen in love with form – people who are willing to wear almost anything as long as it reflects what they believe to be beautiful. Gradually, with the evolution of culture, a third dimension of the concept of fashion has emerged. You could call it the “meaning” of fashion – what it says about who you are.

Milestones in fashion history

Several personalities stand out in human history as people who have used fashion to make powerful statements. The likes of David Bowie brought new meaning to the androgynous style of fashion that defied the boundaries of biology and pushed people to think about what clothing means rather than just what it is.

Another key example takes us way back into time, to the tumultuous years of the French Revolution. During the 1790s, a new type of 18th-century fashionista emerged in Paris, inspired and driven by the notions of freedom, equality and fraternity. This was the era of the original punks and rebels, who politicised fashion in a way that many never imagined could be possible.

And of course, you can’t talk about statement fashion without talking about the suffragettes – the earliest founders of the women’s liberation movement who fought the good fight and advocated for gender equality. These pivotal, historical figures used colour to communicate important messages. Members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) wore purple to represent loyalty and dignity, white to represent purity and green to symbolised hope.

Slogan fashion takes the stage

As history progressed and fashion changed, the realms of self-expression, personal freedom, and style intersected. The result was the classic slogan tee. The jury’s out as to when the first slogan tee was designed and worn as part of everyday fashion. Some trace its origins back to the 1980s, when fashion designer, Katharine Hamnett began producing t-shirts emblazoned with anti-nuclear statements and politically charged messages.

But we could go further back to the 1960s when a shop called Mr Freedom in the UK started selling Disney-inspired slogan tees. Arguably, we can go as far back as 1948, after the Second World War, when Republican presidential candidate, Thomas Dewey wore a slogan tee that read: “Dew it with Dewey,” as part of his campaign. He lost the vote to Harry Truman. But the slogan tee was here to stay.

During the noughties, slogan fashion became the domain of sub-cultures – emo kids, #Barbiecore, tech heads, goths, grunge and hippies all had something to say and they did it using fashion.

Written statements soon found their way into the design houses of the world’s fashion capitals and into the closets of style icons like Victoria Beckham, Sarah Jessica Parker and Harry Styles. And of course, who could ever forget Cher’s iconic monochrome jacket that read: “God Save N.Y.E?”

Today, a casual scroll through social media will demonstrate just how ubiquitous slogan fashion has become. With the passing of the decades, slogan fashion made its way from the realm of activism into the world of mainstream fashion – what started out as an opportunity to make a political statement turned into an opportunity to make a statement about who you are and what you believe in.

Our take on self-expression style

Slogan fashion was something we could get behind, because of the central principle that inspires us – movement. Our designs are made to accommodate the optimal degree of movement and many of our silhouettes are inspired by dancers and athletes who use movement as a vehicle for self-expression.

But dance is an art form that goes beyond just the physical and touches the soul. Fashion moves us; and through our designs, we hope to provide people with a way to express their thoughts, opinions and daydreams out loud, without saying a word. It’s the silent kind of statement – sometimes that’s the best kind.

We started by producing a range of crew socks featuring statements at the back. Our Bamboo Crew Socks with the slogan “do what you love” were a crowd favourite. We knew we had a winner when these beauties started flying off the proverbial shelves, so we decided to explore further.

Now, we’ve extended the range to include sweatshirts and tees, each featuring words of wisdom and inspiration.

Fashion as a form of self-expression is a notion that we support and encourage. Why shoudn’t the clothes you wear say something about who you are, what you believe and what you stand for?

So go ahead, make your statement while stepping out in style. No one ever said you couldn’t do both at the same time.


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