How 2016 Became The Year Of The Slogan

Fashion's ultimate exercise in self-expression

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When I was 14, in the Nineties, I had a black crop top from Miss Selfridge that had the word 'Attitude' emblazoned across it in bright white italics. (I also had one that said 'Babe' in glitter but let's never speak of it). The irony is not lost on me that I was actually a mild-mannered, introspective teenager with approximately zero attitude, but I'm thankful to my mum for buying it and humouring me.

Hood By Air SS17
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Later that year, I ramped up my naive venture into rebellion by wearing a French Connection 'FCUK fashion' T-shirt. I know what you're thinking: this kid was edgy. But it did feel transgressive to be so tantalisingly close to wearing a swearword out in public. I don't remember that 1997 campaign sending out any particular message but the simple acronym, penned by an agency Creative Director Trevor Beattie, captured the mood of a generation of teens who wanted to experiment with anarchy (and I enjoyed a wistful moment of nostalgia when the campaign came back for SS16). According to Chief Executive of French Connection, Stephen Marks, that was the goal: 'As we're paying homage to the Nineties, this was the right time to bring back the FCUK logo.'

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Fashion has always been about self-expression but, in this moment of political upheaval, social unrest and ceaseless change, capturing a mood isn't enough. We want a message to scream and shout.

Dior SS17

Sloganeering has been all over the catwalk (aw16 Alexander Wang and DKNY, for example, and ss17 Hood By Air and Dior, to name just a few) and it's making its presence felt on the high street, too (River Island, Topshop, H&M). The hashtags and captions have leapt from our smartphones and on to our clothes.

'People feel they have no voice, but they can wear it on a T-shirt and people can't not read it.'

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Just in case you didn't already know our political affiliation or where we stand on Justin Bieber (we're looking at you, Vêtements), we're spelling it out for all the world to see. But it's not all righteous protest; fashion has a unique way of getting the message across, whether it be playful or poignant, while succinctly capturing a moment, too.

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The motivation and sentiment behind fashion slogans have evolved over time and according to the social climate. The Seventies and Eighties saw a rise in bold, provocative activist messaging under the radical eye of British designers such as Katharine Hamnett and Vivienne Westwood. In the Seventies, Westwood and her then partner Malcolm McLaren's most popular design featured images of a swastika and Christ on the cross under the word 'Destroy', apparently making a stand against dictatorships.

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A decade later, Hamnett created the design that spawned a thousand imitators with her oversized T-shirts with black block capital slogans. In 1984, she famously stuck two fingers up at the establishment by wearing a top saying, '58% Don't Want Pershing' to meet Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at a Downing Street reception (in protest against US Pershing missiles in the UK). The iconic 'Frankie Say Relax' and 'Choose Life' soon followed. Hamnett says the resurgence in sloganeering is the symptom of a newly frustrated generation. 'There is a swing to the right and with that a loss of civil liberties,' she explains. 'People feel they have no voice, but they can wear it on a T-shirt and people can't not read it.'

If the last few seasons have been an unapologetic Nineties fashion revival (combat boots, chokers, babydoll dresses, and so on), then it's logical that we should witness a nod to Nineties-era logomania this season. The trend that DKNY helped to launch was resuscitated for AW16 with slogans like 'Insert Logo Here' and 'Designers Know Nothing Yet'. And for SS17, hooded boilersuits were emblazoned with 'New York Is The New York'.

In an era of Brexit, Donald Trump, Everyday Sexism and Black Lives Matter, it may feel like we're more politically engaged than ever, but conventional campaigning often fails to capture our attention.

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This more playful tone reminded me of the Noughties moment when the angry, political edge of the punk era gave way to more cheeky, spirited designs from the likes of Henry Holland – 'Do Me Daily Christopher Bailey' and 'Flick Yer Bean For Agyness Deyn'. Holland has hit refresh on these T-shirts for SS17, enlisting the biggest models with enormous reach on social media to wear them before the catwalk show itself: 'I'm Yours For A Tenner Kendall Jenner' and 'Give Us A Toss Karlie Kloss'. ELLE Designer Viet Tran recalls the first collection with an affectionate cringe.

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'Before university, a load of us were really into those T-shirts but we couldn't afford them, so we came up with our own slogans such as, "He's your man, Viet Tran", "It's all coolio with Nat Feruglio". I think we liked that it was fun and you could wear clothing that referenced something or someone you associated with. It was an inside joke that united us as a group.'

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'There is a woman who loves these iconic slogans, who has a sense of humour,' says Natalie Kingham, Buying Director at matchesfashion.com. 'It feels quite tribal, people recognise and embrace these pieces and it identifies them as part of a group.' Whether you're a designer broadcasting your philosophy on the catwalk or the woman on the street wearing a Beyoncé T-shirt, fashion offers a simple means by which you can tell the world what you're about.

Steven Fielding, Professor of Political History at University of Nottingham, argues that 'display' has always been important. 'In the 19th century before women had the vote, they would use umbrellas that represented their preferred candidate,' he says, 'and the Suffragettes wore purple to demonstrate who they were.'

In an era of Brexit, Donald Trump, Everyday Sexism and Black Lives Matter, it may feel like we're more politically engaged than ever, but conventional campaigning often fails to capture our attention. 'One of the problems of any campaign group or political party is that people aren't listening; they've switched off,' adds Fielding. 'Any form of communication that goes against expectation will make an impact.'

This year, Anna Cosgrave, 26, from County Wicklow launched her 'REPEAL' tops to campaign for a repeal of Ireland's Eighth Amendment, a law passed in 1983 outlawing abortion in the country. 'To wear your rights on your body has resonance,' she says. 'I find they act as statements of solidarity and unity, and embody what grass roots activism is all about.'

While some slogans can publicise a direct cause, there is fashion that is more subtle in its message; at Vêtements, phrases such as, 'May The Bridges I Burn Light The Way' denoted some undefined anger. Creative Director Demna Gvasalia said, 'I remember the morning after the 2015 attacks, walking through Paris and it was zombie land.

Maybe the anger somehow was present in our last show but it was subconscious. In the same way, before Charlie Hebdo, we had made all these security sweatshirts. You feel things and it filters through to the world.' Gvasalia's politics may be less self-conscious than his predecessors but the feeling of restless discontent persists. That's what's so brilliant about fashion: whatever your 'thing' is, there is clothing that can help you express it. And a T-shirt is much less painful than a tattoo.

It's nearly 20 years since I wore that 'Attitude' top and while I'm spoilt for choice with comparable options today, I'm not sure I'll be wearing a 'Where My Beaches At' ASOS T-shirt any time soon. Having said that, sloganeering isn't going anywhere and I'm excited to see what awaits us in upcoming seasons. Political uncertainty and seething emotion are powerful tools for creative inspiration. That and Donald Trump T-shirts saying 'We Shall Overcomb'.

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