Exploring this exhibition of T-shirts through the 20th century highlighted the multi-faceted role of such a simple, yet iconic garment. Curated by David Sinclair, Jenna Rossi-Camus and Dennis Nothdruft, the exhibition chartered the history, culture and subversion of the most popular item of clothing on the planet, the T-shirt.
The initial part of the exhibition takes you through a T-shirt timeline, which will make you question how you will ever look at a T-shirt in the same way again. Originating in AD500 the milestones of the T-shirt focus it as a protagonist in cultural, political and technological narratives.
The exhibition is split up into 12 installations exploring the T-shirt as a communication tool. Collecting them into thematic groups, the exhibition stages the messages and histories of each garment , inviting us to “listen in and interpret their meanings anew”.
T-shirt timeline facts which stood out as interest:
1948 – The first use of the T-shirt as a political campaign tool during New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey’s presidential campaign using the slogan “Dew-it-with-DEWEY”
1951 – Marlon Brando brings the classic white T-shirt into the sexual imagination in the film ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’
1969 – The first UK government anti-smoking campaign to e produced by an advertising agency sees hip young people wearing “we don’t smoke” T-shirts
1970 – Designers John & Molly develop inks that can print on fabric five years before they become widely available
1971 – Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McLaren set up their shop ’Let it Rock’ and soon begin designing and selling retro rock memorabilia and slogan T-shirts
1977 – Milton Glaser designs the iconic ‘I Love NY’ T-Shirt (In a taxi) as part of a government sponsored marketing campaign for New York State. Inspired by Pop Art, it goes on to be one of the most recognisable designs of the twentieth century
1981 – Although there is a ban on the production of the royal wedding souvenirs that bear the image of the royal family, bootleg vendors produce and sell T-shirts that reverently or ironically celebrate the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer
1994 – Animal right charity PETA launches an anti-fur T-shirt campaign featuring fashion models Emma Sjoberg and Naomi Campbell posing naked for the cause
2000 – By the early 2000’s the rise of fast fashion sees more than 2 billion T-shirts sold each year, a figure that has since risen
2010 – Textile technology allows innovations that bring the T-shirt back to utilitarian concerns, such as the world’s first bullet proof T-shirt and one that can block up to 99% of UV rays
2017 – The first female designer to head Dior, Maria Grazia Churi, sends models down the catwalk in T-shirts reading ‘WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS’, emphasizing the role of the T-shirt in contemporary political, social and cultural debates
Whilst walking through the exhibition it stimulates the idea that fashion is a communicative tool and we can use our clothing for our personal expression. It also shows that our own archives of T-shirts illustrate how we all own a part of history, personal or universal.
By examining the T-shirt in relation to cult, culture and subversion, the exhibition focuses on how it has been a means to broadcast personal affinities and affiliations, while also reflecting creative and technical innovation.


In the Fashion Studio, Susan Barnett’s remarkable compilation of photographs are displayed. Barnett views her subjects through a single article of dress: the T-shirt. The T-shirts represent messages, logos and text of spirituality, sexuality, race, celeb culture, history, consumerism and narcissism. This insightful display provides a window into the world we live in and the way we reflect that world through our clothes.




Fashion and Textile Museum
83 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XF