By Daria Dorosh
Published on June 10, 2015
Young people in Kony 2012 T-shirts participating in a day of mass action in multiple cities across the US.
If fashion is a social text, then a fashion trend is a powerful massing event. Some trends are short lived, while others shatter deeply held beliefs and customs, forever. For instance, in the early part of the twentieth century, when young women first cut off their long feminine hair and sported a short masculine “bob”, they often risked censure by their friends and family. Fashion trends are threatening to the social order because on some level we sense that they are just the tip of the iceberg. Women “bobbing” their hair precipitated changes in a woman’s entire wardrobe, from foundation garments, to shoes, to accessories, to a new lifestyle. The romantic, feminine, and respectably long dress that complemented the previous ideal of feminine beauty was displaced by a somewhat masculine, rectangular silhouette, with a boyish elongated waist and a flirtatious short hemline that revealed a sexy leg. When fashion announces a new cultural narrative, consequences are likely to follow. Since bobbing their hair and baring their legs, women have been stepping off the proverbial pedestal and agitating for social equality with men in every aspect of life.
Another fashion massing event that is a significant cultural text is the endurance of the T-shirt as the icon of our time. If historically fashion is about change, then the T-shirt has been a serious rule-breaker since the 1950s. Not only is it a staple in everyone’s wardrobe, it has crossed all the boundaries of specialized clothing. It is worn by both genders, of any age, for all occasions, awake or asleep, on a global scale. The T-shirt’s popularity is perhaps too easily explained by the fact that it is comfortable, disposable, and inexpensive. Curiously, it is emblematic of workingmen’s clothing but it is worn by people from all economic levels. Do we even know anyone who does not own a T-shirt? We might ask, why has the working class become the fashion ideal when it was once the wealthy class that didn’t need to work at all? Is it because we are coming to the end of work as we have known it and feel nostalgic about the loss? Compatible with the T-shirt is the computer with its proliferation of bits and bytes globally, alongside the T-shirt. Both are implicated in the new nature of work.
But the T-shirt has other characteristics, which become ominous as a massing phenomenon. Conventional cotton is a heavily chemical-dependent industry. Some 90% of all cotton has been genetically modified, and relies on considerable fertilization practices, continues its chemical life with the fabric treatments, dyes, and other additives that some say stay with it throughout its entire life cycle and can even be absorbed by our skin. If the textile industry is the fifth largest polluting industry on the planet, does that mean that the unassuming T-shirt may be the poison pill distributed by us all world wide?
Our intimacy with textile is primary, from the cradle to the grave. Imagine a massing event led by the T-shirt that is ecologically responsible, body friendly, comfortable, in a range of beautiful colors from natural plant and mushroom dyes and available in an array of beautiful mathematical knitting patterns. This is the T-shirt that we deserve, if only we would get together and ask for it.