In a curious way, the deaths today of both Vivienne Westwood and Pele – a fashion guru and a footballing great – are connected to the story of the popularisation of the tshirt.
Globe Trotsky marks a sad in the history of the tshirt.
Here at Gulag Towers, headquarters of Globe Trotsky Inc., we are saddened to hear of two tshirt related deaths on the same day today. Edson Arantes do Nascimento better-known as the Brazilian footballer Pele, and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood.
Both are in different ways connected to the development of the tshirt as fashion streetwear. Pele whose era firmly established the retro football shirt with its block colours as a sacred item of football fashion and Westwood whose provocative punk slogans punctured the post-war consensus as an expression of working class nihilism.
I grew up in a world before brands. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw my dad in a tshirt; in true Rab C. Nesbitt style only a shirt and a vest. I held a political and cultural disdain for fashion brands. No one is buys me that easily. I wasn’t going to be a commodity for some global brand, except my football team, Celtic: That was only real badge of allegiance.
So sad to hear of Pele’s death at 82. He was my first foreign football hero. Plus, the fact that he was a black man in a white world taught me as much about politics as football. My two favourite moments were not even goals. His speed of thought was what mesmerised me as a football-obsessed youngster. Revealed in his audacious shot from his own half against Czechoslovakia and his dummy on the keeper against Uruguay in the 1970 World Cup. Both marked him out as not only as a skillful player but also as a one with a beautiful football brain; a lightening-quick thinker. He didn’t need to resort to cheating to be the greatest footballer of all time.
So that Brazil top became iconic in my view. In the days before you buy a reproduction top, I recall my mum sewing the number ’10’ onto a yellow and green t-shirt for this little corpulent Scot to try and imitate what he had seen in his first World Cup aged eight. It was also the first time the Number 10 rather than the Number 9 as central striker became the desired digit of the back of a football shirt. Sleep well Edson Arantes do Nascimento; you entertained and inspired millions around the football world.
As early as 1971 Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren set up their shop, Let it Rock, at 430 Kings Road and soon begin designing and selling retro rock memorabilia and slogan tshirts.
Her tshirts and designs featured heavily at an exhibition I decided to visit a few years back at the Textile Museum. Little did I know that the humble tshirt was to become an integral part of the growing and culturally significant Globe Trotsky brand and persona.
From Agitprop to Punk
Coincidently, Agitprop (Agitational Propaganda) was pioneered in Soviet Russia at the time of Trotsky and it can be connected directly to the subversive strategies of punk. Tshirts with defiled images and bold provocative slogans and Punk fashion – such as those created by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren – summed up punk’s visual and sartorial image, subverting capitalism and perverting conformity.
Indeed Westwood, who died today aged 81, was crowned the ‘Godmother of Punk’. She was an unfaltering activist for both people and planet. Despite her irreverent attitude toward the British Establishment, she was made a Dame for her services to fashion in 2006.
As well as climate change, Westwood became a vocal supporter for the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is fighting extradition to the US to face charges under the Espionage Act. In July 2020, she dressed in canary yellow in a giant bird cage warning over an Assange “stitch up”.
To a fashion and a footballing great, Globe Trotsky will raise a glass or two to remember their passing and to celebrate their significant part of the history of the tshirt.
For more on the history of the tshirt visit our dedicated page.
Tshirts: You are what you wear
For more on Globe Trotsky’s fascination with the humble tshirt, explore our dedicated pages for a humorous history or follow the links just below
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