Political T-shirts

With the 2012 presidential election less than 2 weeks away, political discourse is inescapable. The candidates, their positions, and rabid speculation on the outcome of the upcoming election dominate the news. For some people, political beliefs are a private topic, something to be kept under wraps. Others choose to express their beliefs, political or otherwise, via sartorial billboard, also known as the T-shirt. Inexpensive to produce and easy to wear, T-shirts are the perfect medium to broadcast opinions, ideas and beliefs to friends and strangers. Whatever your party affiliations, there's surely a T-shirt, hat, coffee mug, or bumper sticker promoting your candidate.

2004546Jeremy Scott
Museum Purchase

In 2004, designer Jeremy Scott created this T-shirt with a slogan encouraging voter participation. Based on the iconic 1970s "God Save the Queen" T-shirt
design by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, Scott's T-shirt
incorporates an American political figure, then President George W.
Bush. During the 2004 election, incumbent President George Bush and
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry vied for the highest political office in the United States. After a close race, President Bush was reelected for a second term.


Another political T-shirt in our collection takes a more tongue-in-cheek approach to politics. Jane Fonda never ran for president, but she did become deeply involved in political activism during the 1960s and 1970s. Having starred in numerous films during the 1960s, Fonda was a well-known actress. Her biggest hit of the decade was the science fiction send-up Barbarella (1968). Because of her public persona, Fonda's support of left-leaning political causes was often controversial. In addition to her support of civil rights and feminist causes, Fonda was a vocal anti-war activist. Her 1972 trip to North Vietnam, and the widely-circulated image of Fonda sitting on an anti-aircraft gun and surrounded by North Vietnamese soldiers, still generates resentment despite Fonda's public apologies for certain aspects of her trip.

In 1982, Fonda released Jane Fonda's Workout, the first in a series of wildly popular exercise videos. Nineteen-eighties fashions emphasized the body and fashion "catered to the aerobics-sculpted bodies of fashion trendsetters."1 Azzedine Alaia's clinging fashions are emblematic of the era. Jane Fonda's workout videos were a popular expression of the widespread interest in physical perfection. Accessible to anyone with a VCR, they allowed women to work-out in the privacy of their own home.

Our "Jane Fonda for President" T-shirt is probably a reference to this era of her career. During the 1960s/70s, promoting Jane Fonda for president would have been a radical suggestion. By the 1980s, the popularity of Fonda's workout videos had softened her reputation. For those who knew Fonda primarily as a fitness guru, a vote for Jane Fonda was a vote for physical fitness.

Gift of Dorothy Washington Sorensen

1 Steele, Valerie. Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000: 121.

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