Big Moments in Activist Apparel

Here are some highlights of when apparel and accessories have been used for political and activist causes.

1948: This political T-shirt for New York Gov. Thomas Dewey’s presidential campaign is believed to be one of the earliest printed tees.

1965: Siblings Mary Beth and John Tinker of Des Moines, IA, started wearing black armbands just before Christmas in 1965. Emblazoned with a simple white peace sign, the bands were a symbol of mourning for Vietnam War dead. The Tinkers and other students who wore them were suspended from classes. Eventually, their situation made it to the Supreme Court. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, settled in 1969, determined the students’ action was protected under freedom of speech.

1984: British fashion designer Katharine Hamnett revealed her iconic “58% Don’t Want Pershing” shirt when she met with then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The slogan was a reference to polls showing public opposition to Pershing missiles.

1991: At the 1991 MTV video music awards where REM won six awards, lead singer Michael Stipe took the opportunity to send a message, stripping off T-shirt after T-shirt to reveal slogans close to his heart: “Wear a condom,” “Choice,” “Alternative energy now,” “The right to vote,” “Handgun control,” “Love knows no colors” and “Rainforest.”

2014: LeBron James and other NBA players wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts in honor of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died after police placed him in a chokehold.

2016: The divisive presidential election spawned scads of politically charged apparel, from iconic “Make America Great Again” hats worn by Donald Trump supporters to “Nasty Woman” tees worn by many in the Hillary Clinton camp.

2017: T-shirts with a distinctly pro-woman bent became high fashion last year. Of particular note for the price tag alone is the $710 “We Should All Be Feminists” T-shirt sent down Dior’s spring 2017 runway. The slogan is a reference to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay of the same name. A portion of sales were donated to pop star Rihanna’s nonprofit, the Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF).