Review: T-Shirt: Cult – Culture – Subversion. Fashion and Textile Museum, London.

As an avid t-shirt wearer how could I not visit a new exhibition focusing on this wardrobe staple?

T-Shirt: Cult – Culture – Subversion brings its own very specific look to the Fashion and Textile Museum. The black walls and scaffolding used in the displays provide an industrial feel that is very fitting with the title of the exhibition, if not a little clichéd.

The exhibition is separated into a lot of sections; Typologies, Embellishment Techniques, Agitprop, Collecting, With the Band, Personal/Political, Unisex, Ethics and Ecology, Pop Goes the T-shirt, Art to Wear, This is Not a T-shirt and Fashion Statement. Despite all of these the exhibit is quite small and does not take long to take in. Which can be seen as an advantage.

A large amount of space is given to the Vivienne Westwood t-shirt collection of Lee Price, and rightly so. This is an interesting collection showing a large range of Westwood’s t-shirts from the 70s through to today. It is one of the highlights of the exhibit.

With the Band has an array of t-shirts that depict imagery from music artists and bands past and present. A greater collection of original t-shirts would have made this a more interesting area, but it still had its appeal. The best part of this section was “Lou, Andy, Marilyn and Henry.”

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Fashion Statement had a good range of t-shirts that have been seen on the catwalk, including Moschino, Dior and Gucci. These are some of the few shown on a mannequin, as befits such iconic names of the fashion industry.

The most disappointing was the Personal/Political category, which was by far the one I was most looking forward to. Unfortunately these t-shirts are displayed in such a way that it is not possible to look at them all individually. They are put one behind the other and quite close together. As one of the most important uses of slogan t-shirts it is a shame that this part was not given more prominence.

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My personal favourite was the Unisex segment. This fun instalment showed male and female mannequins wearing t-shirts that would usually be aimed at the opposite gender. This was most striking on the male mannequins; seeing lipstick, artistic vaginas and breasts on a male form has quite some impact. The t-shirts on the female mannequins had no where near the same impact; which is due to the choice of garment rather than the female form.

Where the male forms were wearing artistic and feminist imagery the female ones showed what can mostly be described as geeky (a superman t-shirt, a printed tuxedo) or gay (a muscled torso with piercings and chains, He-Man Masc and She-Ra Dom Top t-shirts). This difference between the style of t-shirts worn by the mannequins is somewhat unfair but does not detract from what is a playful section.

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This exhibition could have a broad audience from those interested from a fashion perspective to those with an interest in cultural studies. The political and subversive messages that have been displayed across people’s chests for decades have made t-shirts an important part of society.

T-Shirt: Cult – Culture – Subversion runs until 6th May at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, London.  Book your tickets here

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