It is one of our great sorrows that anti-establishment clothing is confined, for the most part, to the T-shirt, an item we think is staggeringly unflattering on the vast majority of people. Where are the anti-Bush berets? What about aprons? Pedal pushers? Poodle skirts?
As it happens, the rise of the political tee is a fairly recent phenomenon. A recent visit to “Campaigns on Cotton” at the NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY (nyhistory.org) turns up a jaunty shirtwaist printed with red, white, and blue Ikes (it could pass for a Cynthia Rowley); myriad neckerchiefs extolling the virtues of everyone from Zachary Taylor to Norman Thomas, and a rhinestone-studded Nixon brooch. (It’s a wonderful exhibit: There’s even an old black-and-white TV showing political commercials from the Stevenson-Eisenhower race, one of which features a chanteuse who sings, “Adlai, love you madly.”)
So, having previously reported on the recent flood of Bush-bashing tees in tony Soho shops (see our article “Bush, Whacked,” May 2–June 1), we approach 8th Street with high hopes. At a place called INFINITY TATTOO AND PIERCING, long-standing classics like “Jesus Is My Homeboy” and the inimitable “Do I Look Like a Fucking People Person?” now share window space with the eloquent “Not My President.” Two other shirts score their points by means of double portraiture: One features two pix of the prez taken four years apart above the words “Dumb and Dumber”: another offers the legend “Good Bush/Bad Bush”—the bad being illustrated with a drawing of G.W.B., the good accompanying a likeness of that part of the female anatomy whose slang name is the same as the commander in chief’s moniker. (This coincidence was responsible for Whoopi Goldberg’s firing—can you imagine, Whoopi guilty of vulgar puns?—as spokesperson for Slim-Fast, after that Kerry benefit a few weeks ago.)
Down the street at UNTITLED, the only store on 8th that stocks Jean Paul Gaultier, Moschino, and other high-end labels, there are skinny ribbed undershirts in bright colors that say “Peace” across their chests. If you’re wondering why portraits of Bob Marley are visible inside each letter, it’s because the shirts were designed by Marley’s daughter, Cedella. Even more enticing is the just-arrived line by Tricia Fix, who reconstructs vintage garments, splatters them artfully with paint, and adds slogans like “F-ck War,” (the U replaced by a skull and crossbones). The results manage to look stylish while making a statement, which is no mean feat. (A corset top is $115; a tiny pleated mini is $119.)
Lastly, a missive crossed our desk just the other day from a company called APTco (apoliticaltshirtcompany.com) announcing the company’s new tee, which is modeled by Lauren Hutton and reads “Choice” in mirror writing, the conceit being that “when a woman looks in the mirror, it reinforces her personal choice to make a difference with her vote.” It also seems to imply that she’s pro-choice, though the press release declines to make that leap.
Because the release also alludes to a fancier line of slogan-embellished clothes, we call the press rep, who confirms that APTco does indeed also offer shirts that have been hand-sewn in what she describes as local “sewing circles.” (We want to ask how much those busy bees in the circle get paid, but lose our nerve.) Instead of bearing printed messages, these slogans are lovingly applied, letter by letter, to vintage shirts found at flea markets from Clingancourt to the Rose Bowl. (Motto-bedecked broadcloth shirts stamped “Her Majesty’s Prison System” are also available.)
Unfortunately, these garments, as you might expect, are not for sale on 8th Street, not even at Untitled. They are instead at JEFFREY in the meatpacking district, where their prices, which range from $190 for a tee to $290 for the broadcloth, put them among the least expensive things in that shop.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 20, 2004