It was Mark Twain who said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” That saying still rings true, as our society has developed into one that uses apparel as a way to convey one’s social status. Simply flip through the pages of a woman’s fashion magazine to read breathless coverage of the fashion statements being made on the couture runways of Paris, Milan, and New York. Listen to a gaggle of high school girls decrying the must-have fashion accessory of last season as “so last year.” Even men aren’t immune to the whims of the fashionistas – particularly those fashion moguls who were once (or still are) hip hop moguls.
If both men and women use apparel to convey social status, they also use it as a means of self-expression. The fictitious fashion editor in “The Devil Wears Prada” always accessorized with a white Hermes scarf. Donald Trump is known for his colorful neckties. And Woody Harrelson is known for wearing hemp.
Beginning in the 1960s, T-shirts became a means of self-expression. Back then, plain white T-shirts transformed into tie-dye works of art proclaiming the rise of “flower power” and urging, “Make love, not war.” Soon, messages began appearing on T-shirts using silk screening or screen printing. Bands began selling branded T-shirts to their fans at concerts, and young people began wearing band T-shirts as a symbol of their personal identities.
For the past few decades, graphic tees have also been used as promotional and branding tools. Whether the word “Gap” is emblazoned across the front of a T-shirt or a depiction of a favorite Disney character adorns the wearer, the T-shirt has become a means of marketing a product or brand.
This branding may have begun at the corporate level, but soon became personal. From the humble beginnings of tie dye and peace symbols, T-shirts have evolved into a lasting trend of people wearing their beliefs, philosophies, and senses of humor on what are termed “graphic tees.” Graphic tees can range from funny T shirts and joke shirts to party shirts and even rude shirts. Indeed, graphic tees are standard issue for college kids, those who want to speak their minds, and those who consider themselves outcasts. During times of political controversy, funny tee shirts take the place of (or are an adjunct to) bumper stickers. The boldness and bravado of the wearer is evident for all to see.
Some people think that graphic tees fall into the category of “rude clothes,” while others consider them a form of free speech. Indeed, instead of wearing your heart on your sleeve, you can wear your political beliefs, spiritual beliefs, sense of humor, or sense of outrage emblazoned upon your chest.
There’s no doubt that funny tee shirts, joke shirts, party shirts, and even rude shirts are the ultimate form of self-expression. It seems like, once again, Mark Twain got it right!