Political T-Shirts 101 | Newsletter #2

Political T-Shirts 101 | Newsletter #2

Political T-shirts have been around for ages – well, for the better part of a century, at least. According to the Smithsonian, the first political tee was a shirt printed in support of presidential candidate Thomas Dewey. It read: “Dew it with Dewey,” the spiritual antecedent to “Do the Dew.” Through the ’50s, political tees were more often propaganda than protest. That began to change in the following decade. Boomers kicked off the sartorial revolution by tie-dying T-shirts, an indirect but meaningful step toward making clothing a part of counter-culture.

Anti-war tees begin to surface in the ’60s, with protestors wearing shirts that bore the flag of the Viet Cong, and the phrase “Question Authority.” In 1970, this banger dropped. When Watergate broke, “Impeach Nixon” tees were printed up and distributed widely. At the same time, across the pond, Vivienne Westwood and her boutique “SEX” were inspiring a whole slew of punk rock tee shirts that embraced controversy. Less than two decades since the first iconic graphic tee dropped – the famous Forrest Gump smiley face tee, circa 1963 – we were seeing the dangling dicks of naked cowboys and children’s cartoon characters shouting “Eat the Rich!” on T-shirts.

In the 1980s, protest tees were more abundant than ever. In South Africa, shirts calling for the release of Nelson Mandela and an end to Apartheid were plentiful. In the US and the UK, protestors wore shirts condemning their governments’ apathetic handling of the AIDS crisis that ravaged the LGBT community. Some of the most famous of these include the iconic shirts produced by artist Keith Haring that now go for hundreds of dollars in vintage stores. (Haring died of the disease in 1990).

The tradition continues today. Many artists are creating boldly political garments. Personally, I love the work that @isolationus produces. The brand makes clothes that denounce American imperialism. Their drop decrying the Iraq war - and the era of unbridled, uncritical patriotism that came with it - was dope. Ricky was kind enough to send me a Donald Rumsfeld racer tee that showed the former Secretary of Defense in a racing suit adorned with defense contractor patches, similar to this Obama version.

The Iraq war era produced a panorama of political shirts (for example), and a Supreme Court ruling from 2003 reestablished the right to wear controversial political clothing in the United States, in this case a Michigan high school student wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with an image of George Bush that read “International Terrorist”.

I’m as political as the next guy, and one particular political event has been lodged irretrievably in my skull since I was 12 years old, when I first saw Oliver Stone’s film JFK. The assassination of John F. Kennedy seems such a pivotal moment in American history, a point at which the possibility of moving away from war-profiteering toward peaceful, multipolar coexistence, died (not to sound like a disconsolate old man). This fixation inspired my own contribution to the rich history of political T-shirts.

Thanks to Spencer’s Gifts, I’m proud to say this little number will be making its way into select malls nationwide, and you know something?

It just might be my masterpiece.

It gives me great satisfaction to think that as John and Jane Q. public peruse the chains at their local mall, Auntie Anne’s in hand, they might stumble across this shirt, and think: “That’s strange.” But they also might, upon returning home, flip open their computers and do their own research re: JFK/CIA/ETC.
Should you wish to do the same, here are some resources that I have found quite helpful and enjoyable:
for Podcasts:


Stay tuned, we're dropping some postcards later this month. Here’s a sneak peak:

There's too many political tees to talk about so here's some

Exploding Kennedy by European Son

Question Authority

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