The t-shirt has played an integral role in the lives of mankind from as early as the 19th century. It has been inspired by paradigm shifts and powerful movements in history. Consistently, it has emerged as a visual statement and a medium for communicating a message or stance in society. The t-shirt is fashion’s graphic contribution to lifestyle. This resonates strongly with Trinidadian designer, Jessel Brizan of The Jessel Brizan Design Group. Jessel is the curator behind The Art of the T. The Art of the T: A T-shirt Odyssey pays homage to the t-shirt. Brizan describes the virtual t-shirt exhibition as a t-shirt odyssey and a thematic exploration of t-shirt design. Some of these themes include Art, Revolution and Typography. The Art of the T is an online event that features updated versions of Brizan's designs available in limited quantities. Some of Brizan's labels featured in The Art of the T are Embryo, RGG Clothing Co. , Rgg Denim Co., Red Gold + Green and Urban Militia. Eco friendly fabrics, printing techniques and sustainable practices were considered in the curation of The Art of the T for the conscious consumer who is virtuous about their purpose in environmental and social responsibility. Regardless of its muse, the art of the T is partial to storytelling.
The plain t-shirt tells a tale about the American labourers who cut their jumpsuits in half so they could better manage the sweltering heat of the warmer seasons. The t-shirt takes us on a maritime adventure to 1913 when the plain t-shirt was manufactured as an undershirt for the U.S. Navy. In 1948 Thomas E. Dewey, American presidential candidate distributed t-shirts decorated with his campaign slogan, “Dew It For Dewy.” In the 1950’s the t-shirt maneuvered the buoyancy of time and started an unnerving battle with the social code associated with the t-shirt's transition from undershirt to outwear attire. Furthermore, popular culture provoked this change with Hollywood actors like James Dean wearing the t-shirt solo to suit the rebellious nature of the character he played in the film, "Rebel Without a Cause". The time was opportune for the t-shirt uprising and people became creative. They embraced and explored the opportunity to decorate and embellish their tool of revolt, the t-shirt.
Soon the t-shirt design industry was seen as a sustainable and profitable industry for entrepreneurs. The momentum, invested interest and growing demand for the graphic t-shirt led to the invention of t-shirt printing machines that would then catapult the t-shirt industry. The 1970’s further fueled the demand for graphic t-shirts. It heralded the reverence of the punk era. It was a time when people found their voice and flooded fashion with graphic t-shirts that conveyed their sentiments about anything from current affairs to personal interest. The world was ripe with insurgence from the farce of equality for women’s rights, gay rights and civil rights. People were unafraid to use the graphic t-shirt as their way of speaking out against antagonistic issues which continued to pain the world.
Fast forward to the 21st century and t-shirts are still advocacy emblems. T-shirt activism became the strife of fashion designers who rejected the tirades of the presidential elect of 2017. New York Fashion Week was presented as a platform for designers to stand united with all citizens negatively impacted by the changes from the new administration. A year prior to this event, fashion house Dior made their t-shirt debut with the statement, “We should all be feminists.” In 2017 models sashayed down the runway in protest t-shirts designed by international fashion designers like Prabal Gurung who was raised in Nepal. He included slogans on his soft knit t-shirts like “Our minds, our bodies, our power,” “Stronger than fear,” and “Revolution has no borders.” He was inspired by the recent Women’s March in New York which he participated in by walking with others to support the cause. Former Project Runway designer, Christian Siriano delivered his message with his shirts stating, “People are people”. Creatures of Comfort gave their contribution with silkscreened t-shirts capturing the words, “We are all human beings.” Together the t-shirt and its wearer would make memories that survive to depict the visual stories of an unforgettable moment in time.
The Caribbean and by extension Trinidad and Tobago is also party to the graphic t-shirt from light activism to satirical nuances. In Jessel Brizan’s Art of the T, there is something for everyone. The fabrics used for the t-shirt construction in The Art of the T exhibition are soft, lightweight, ecofriendly and manufactured sustainably and ethically. The T-shirt odyssey expresses several themes. The Typography Series plays on the art and technique of arranging type to create artwork that is appealing and legible. The collection is inspired by traditional word games, abstract elements and geometric shapes. It is creative, colourful and highly recommended for the playful at heart, mind and soul. The Pop Art Series draws on the influence of iconic pop art designers like Roy Lichenstein, Andy Warhol and Peter Blake. The series also features the Urban Militia and RGG labels which represent local and global issues from the likes of British colonialism to the revolutionary Che Guevarra.
Jessel Brizan’s Art of the T exhibition is available for viewing and shopping online. Most of the t-shirts are crew neck and unisex to accommodate for everyone including the gender fluid and non-binary identity. Stylists advise that the opening of the neck of the t-shirt should rest close to the neck line. A quick style tip in choosing between the crew neck and the v-neck t-shirt is the length of one's neck. Persons with average length necks can choose either style. Persons with longer necks will benefit from deciding on the crew neck style versus the v-neck as the v-neck style will further elongate their already long neck. T-shirts can be worn fully untucked but stylists recommend half tucking the t-shirt for men who want a more stylish look. Lightly tucking in the T-shirt also helps to break up the body’s proportions so the wearer does not imitate any of the nefarious two or three dimensional shapes. Fit is critical in menswear so the size of the t-shirt selected must best suit the body type. The t-shirt should end between mid to upper crotch with preference given to mid length to avoid tummy flashing when arm stretching or lifting. The sleeves should end at mid bicep and they should lightly hug the arm without being too tight or too loose. A tailor is a wise investment for men who do not have the average body type and struggle to find the right fit.
The Art of the T exhibition has a diverse range of design prints that makes each piece a great base for layering or as a statement piece when worn on its own. The never ending controversy over the appropriate age or time and place for wearing graphic T-shirts is still out for verdict. Stylists whose clients are honorary gentlemen have reserved the graphic T-shirt for their clients to wear at concerts and events. They believe this distinguishes gentlemen from their younger selves and aligns with the sophisticated sense of style for their mature clientele. On the other hand, T-shirt bantons insist on wearing them all day, every day, in every way and everywhere. T-shirt aficionados confounded about which style direction to choose can rest assured that they can trust their intuition and let their inner compass guide them. If all else fails, they can book a stylist who is an expert in this field. In any case the wearer is guaranteed that any selection from The Art of the T takes the wearer on a journey through life and style. The t-shirt offers the opportunity to represent identity and to allow the wearer to visually express themselves wherever they go whether for travel and leisure or travel with a purpose. The t-shirt becomes the solace for the wearer who can stand in their power knowing that the Caribbean community, history and identity also stands with them.