Graphic T-shirts make more than a fashion statement


Moira Armstrong an English and History major(Left) and Jordan George a Fashion major (Right) admire the “Wearing Justice” exhibit at the Kent State University Museum. This Exhibit shows the use of Graphic T-Shirts during heated political moments and showcases their meanings. Sep 13, 2019.

Like photos, graphic T-shirts can carry thousands of different interpretations, meanings and messages.

For generations, graphic tees have been worn as a way to identify where someone aligns, raise awareness for a social movement or make a fashionable statement.

Take the ‘Silence Equals Death’ T-shirt, a black shirt with a pink triangle, used in the 80s as a way to highlight the AIDS crisis.

Textile and fabric specialist Jessica Bucci wrote on the fashion design website StartUp Fashion that graphic tees date back to WWII and were used as a way for military members to identify what branch they belonged to.

Senior fashion merchandising major Sam Bertone often wears a Led Zeppelin graphic T-shirt under her cardigan because she loves their music.

“I love Led Zeppelin and I love classic rock,” Bertone said. “So that’s just why I really wanted to buy this.”

While some use their wardrobe to express their taste in music, others wear graphic T-shirts because they symbolize their political ideologies.

After the murder of Philando Castile due to police brutality, Gregory Joyce, senior finance major and CEO of the clothing brand Provok, created the “Freedom Tears” T-shirt.

On the black shirt, there’s the face of a man in chains and red tears pouring down his eyes. According to his website, the chains represent how prison is the modern day form of slavery and the red tears symbolize the bloodshed of minorities.

To bring awareness to social justice issues, Kent State’s Fashion Museum created a diverse wall of T-shirts that speak on social issues in society, that resides out of the Wearing Social Justice Exhibit.

Part of the exhibit commemorates the 50th anniversary of the May 4 shooting in 1970. The T-shirt wall was created to provoke discussion before entering the Wearing Social Justice exhibit.

Sarah Rogers, director of the Kent State Fashion Museum, said she was inspired to create the wall of T-shirts after the Parkland shooting and how former Parkland student Jammal Lemy created the March for Our Lives shirt.

“They created these T-shirts… it looks like the United States flag, it’s got a QR code and if you link to (it), you can register to vote,” Rogers said.

There are eight shirts found on the wall, each of them diverse in their own right and speaking on a different topic. There’s a “Taxation Equals Theft” T-shirt and a “#OrlandoUnited” T-shirt in honor of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

Two other shirts featured on the wall are a Black Lives Matter shirt and shirt of the states that voted red with the slogan “We saved America.”

“There are a lot of diverse perspectives, and we’re becoming very polarized,” Rogers said. “I didn’t want to ignore that. I didn’t want to sort of do just this one perspective because that’s not how we’re going to be able to change the world, we need to grasp and grapple with all perspectives.”

She said her hope for the T-shirt wall is that it’s an introductory or concluding paragraph for the Wearing Social Justice Exhibit and it provides dialogue for viewers.

“It’s meant not to take away from what is going on in Wearing Justice,” Rogers said. “But again, just to provide a context and make a connector hopefully to the visitor, and their life, and their T-shirts and their beliefs.”

Contact Gershon Harrell 

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