“Just do it.” In 1988, Nike found a way to roll motivational slogans and brand advocacy into one. It stuck, more than the practice of emblazoning brand names alone across t-shirts, caps and sweaters (a trend devalued by market fakes), because out of those two things – motivation and branding – it was as much the former as the latter.

Not all slogans are motivating though, and not all of the words we wear are so intricately tied to branding. Some are political statements, some ironic messages, some humorous puns… and, introducing the biggest lettering trend that’s carrying over into the fashion trends of spring 2014, some are there for novelty and to grab attention.

Click the thumbnails for full pictures
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14
Word up: S/S '14

From slogan t-shirts to words on clothes.

Slogan t-shirts have been around since the 1960s. Vivienne Westwood made them fiercely rebellious, political and punk in the ’70s. The ’80s gave them a heart and a cause. And the ’90s and early 2000s were all about branding.

That very short version of the history of the slogan t-shirt leaves a lot out and a lot simplified, but you get the idea. After market fakes devalued the practice of emblazoning brand names and brand slogans across everything, luxury again swung back to being synonymous with subtlety and it was rather a faux pas to walk around with a huge Von Dutch plastered across your chest. In 2006 Henry Holland’s “Fashion Groupie” t-shirts revived the whole statements-on-tshirts thing in a huge and unavoidable way: the concept became self-aware, and about fashion both celebrating and poking fun at itself.

henry holland fashion groupie tshirts
House of Holland ‘Fashion Groupie’ t-shirts from 2006.

After the deluge of neon fashion groupie t-shirt clones died away, the novelty slogan took a break from oversaturation. The concept itself did not die, though: it simply continued to evolve into a trend that encompasses words and phrases as well as slogans on everything from sweaters to jewellery to handbags, all with the intent to – if nothing else – catch the eye.

Typography for spring 2014.

We saw the trend rise up in 2013, and without a doubt it’s continued to evolve into the spring / summer 2014 season. The types of messages on the runway floated between the environmental and the abstract, occasionally indulging in the downright cheeky.

Vivienne Westwood kept up her environmental commentaries for spring 2014, while Kenzo joined in vocally with messages against overfishing and polluted oceans.

environmental message tshirts
Social commentary: environmental messages at Kenzo and Vivienne Westwood Red Label, S/S ’14.

Meanwhile Alexander Wang mastered witty and cheeky at the same time with his Parental Advisory message plastered across the bust of an otherwise sheer top. Jeremy Scott was typically bold and bright with slogans like “Earth sucks” and “I’m a mess”, and Undercover went for abstract messages and one-worders until this anagrammatical number made things a little more playful.

typography tees spring 2014
Typographical pieces at Alexander Wang, Undercover, Ashish and Jeremy Scott, S/S ’14.

Why words, why now?

So what’s been the cause of the evolution, and where does it leave us?

It’s a youth thing.

One reason why words, phrases and slogans are so popular: we associate them with messages, with having a voice, and that’s typically the domain of the youth. Hate You 2, Cool, FUCK… words for school, not for the office.

youth slogan clothing

Street style made it so.

Particular things will always draw the eye. Letters, numbers, symbols… Our brains are programmed to search for meaning, so whether consciously or not, we can’t resist interpreting what we see.

That’s part of what makes any garment or accessory featuring the written word so irresistible, especially during fashion week. In the quest to stand out, they attract a street style photographer’s lens like a red flag to a bull. You can bet the rise of street style created the momentum for brands like Sophia Webster and Filles A Papa to get in front of a fashion audience.

tomboy tshirt
Filles A Papa “Tomboy” t-shirt at Paris Fashion Week.

In this context the medium can be as important as the message: sometimes it barely matters what your piece says, as long as it says it loud.

Still, the quirkiest, cleverest messages will be the ones that stand out most, start the most conversations, and stick in the mind of those who see them.

sophia webster say my name clutch
Sophia Webster ‘Say My Name’ clutch.

It’s fashion about fashion.

In the case of the fashion world, all this has lead to a continued trend in fashion-themed messages. House Of Holland’s fashion groupie tees are far behind us, but brands like Blackscore and Brian Lichtenberg have continued to produce clever fashion insider jokes. While they sometimes infringe on copyright in the process by referencing major luxury brands, you’ll still see a lot of them this season. They’re a way for the fashion pack themselves to subvert high fashion by being in on the joke, though whether it comes down to irony, self-awareness, or rebellion is up for interpretation. The reason a slogan like Blackscore’s “Totes jel of my Chanel” works is, let’s face it, because it’s not Chanel. If it were… it wouldn’t need to say it.

brian lichtenberg and blackscore slogan tops
Sweater and tee from Brian Lichtenberg, singlet from Blackscore.

You might say these have become cool in the same way Cara Delevingne did: they’re high fashion that doesn’t care about being high fashion.

cara delevingne black score high brow beanie
Cara Delevingne in a Blackscore ‘High Brow’ beanie.

We can identify with them.

If you’re not running out to buy a “Homies” sweater in Hermes orange, you might simply choose to imprint your shirt/necklace/beanie with a word or phrase you can identify with. Tomboy. Girl. Star Wars. Vampire Thug. It either says something you are (perhaps not literally in Kate Lanphear’s case – we hope), or that you’re absolutely not. The more definitive it is to either side, the more effective. If you’re wearing your Tomboy t-shirt with pink tulle skirt and heels right now, you’ll know what I’m getting at.

slogan sweaters street style
‘Star Wars’ tee and ‘Vampire Thug’ sweater: street style.

Words as accessories.

Yes, literally. Lanvin’s “Love”, “Cool”, “Happy” necklaces and belts on the fall 2013 runway have been spotted all over the streets. They not only highlight the fact that words and lettering aren’t just for clothing, but also that they work from a brand’s perspective because they’re highly identifiable. If you see a stack of chain chokers you won’t be able to say for sure where they came from: they could be from anywhere. But spot the word “Happy” in handwriting font, and it’s easy to identify as Lanvin’s design.

The wearer is stamped with luxury; the brand gets marketed even in the absence of brand name.

lanvin word necklaces
Lanvin word necklaces: on the runway; street style in Paris.

So what?

So what, you ask, maybe in the form of sweater imprinted with block capital typography or a clutch in the shape of a speech bubble. Do the words we wear have to mean something? Do they have to further a cause or identify us as belonging to a sub-culture, or prove we can afford a luxury product, or motivate us to “just do it?”

No – I suppose if anything, that’s my point. A word can be there just to catch the eye, or attract the camera lens, or to remind you to be cool or be happy. Shop around and you’ll find plenty of novelty pieces, and also some serious statements too. Words on clothes can be culturally relevant, or completely meaningless and irrelevant. They can be fashion world self-referencing or completely unrelated to fashion.

typography on the spring 2014 runways
Typography on the runway at Alexander Wang, Undercover, and Christopher Kane S/S ’14.

Words will always implore us to take them in and assign them meaning, which is why the pieces that offer up fragments of text rather than actual slogans are sometimes the most interesting. The beauty of all words is, they’re always open to interpretation. And on that note, the one and only piece of advice in choosing which statement-making, sloganned or word-emblazoned pieces to buy: the less generic they are, the better.

More.

For more picture inspiration on how typographical clothing and slogan sweaters were styled on the spring 2014 runways, click on the thumbnails and browse the gallery above.

As for more spring 2014 fashion trends and how to wear them, well of course you can just follow that link.

Share some style:

Want to keep up with fashion?

Once a week, we send out an update with the latest fashion trends, styles and collections.
Get yours direct in your inbox and keep ahead of fashion.

Our newsletter is spam free and your email address will never be shared or sold.
Share