Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The T-Shirt: More than Just a Piece of Cloth

As summer draws ever so close there is one garment that we are bound to see more and more of, in various colours and diverse patterns. It’s not that this item disappears in the colder seasons, it serves rather as an undergarment, but in summer the t-shirt becomes apparent on almost everyone’s back, covering the torso, revealing a larger portion of our upper body limbs.
The t-shirt is probably the most underrated of all fashion items, yet its power is evident on wardrobes the world over. And this little guy is no softy, he’s been around for ages, playing his part in political activism whenever called upon to do so and being the force behind many brands through what has become known as the human billboard. Yes, the t-shirt also plays a role in advertising.
In recent years the street fashion culture in South Africa has become well acquainted with the decoration of t-shirts, creating brands such as AmaKip Kip which, just by keeping eyes peeled, one realises is probably one of the most powerful brands in South African fashion’s recent history. Whether or not the head-honchos at AmaKip Kip are willing to exploit this, the t-shirt did provide a good foundation for them to build an exceptionally influential brand.
Model Agyness Deyn’s chum, Henry Holland, did just that using the t-shirt for its most powerful known function- self expression- yielding results beyond what he even probably imagined.
House of Holland, his t-shirt brand, has earned him recognition and success for the bold, multi-coloured, 80’s inspired tee designs that incorporate fashion-insider wordplay printed on the front. The most popular of his tees features a boldly printed ‘I’ll Show you who’s boss Kate Moss’. The wit is impeccable.
Holland has even earned himself a deal with Levi’s Strauss, designing tees for the popular denim brand.
And the t-shirt’s history of activism within and beyond fashion is well known. The hippie movement has been known for using the t-shirt in self expression. ‘Make Love Not War’, probably comes to mind as the most popular slogan ever printed on a tee. Tie and dye- can anyone say treehugger?
When it began, South African fashion label Stoned Cherrie, became known for their t-shirts embossed with iconic Steve Biko and vintage Drum Magazine cover imprints. The label went on to become one of the biggest brands in South African fashion and for many those tees remain symbolic of the brand.
So, the next time you adorn that t-shirt- which in this summery weather will probably be as soon as tomorrow- maybe for the comfort it provides you, do acknowledge that it is not just a button-less, collarless and pocket-less piece of cloth with short sleeves commonly made of cotton and knitted in a jersey stitch. The t-shirt is way more than just that. Looking back at the post-Polokwane, pre-election period the African National Congress is probably well positioned to attest to the power of the tee!

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