Remember when I said I was going to redo #OneWeekOnePattern, which I blogged about a decade ago? Well… I did something else instead! You see, I put a poll up on Instagram to see if I should do a week of Ashton tanks or Jackson pullovers. It was a complete tie, so I decided to come up with a third option: Wearing message tees/tops for a week!
Logo tees are new to my wardrobe in the last year, and I wear them a lot. In my job as an Itinerant ESL teacher, I walk through the halls at a lot of schools but rarely get to teach whole classes. Dressing like a billboard means I can connect with kids through clothing and hopefully display values that they connect with. I try to normalise talking about Black lives, decolonization, Queer rights and more in schools, and sometimes it is easiest just to #SayItWithClothing!
(Maybe you are wondering, or have heard before, that “the kids are too young for these discussions”? I believe that we implicitly teach them about gender, race and so much more when we read books about White lead characters or families with a mom and a dad. Might as well talk about it intentionally, because otherwise we are perpetuating harm.)
So lets go through my looks, from most to least subtle! This is not the order I wore them – I had to tailor my looks to events in the week.
Most subtle: I wear this Montrose top a lot. I think the print highlights the beauty of different skin tones, but in a professional, modern way. I wore this to make my campaign speech for the local Union leadership. It kept with my pledge but was for formal than the options you’ll see later! I paired it with this yellow Mallee jacket which I love.
Ambiguous: To me this hoodie is clearly about LGBTQ+ joy, but it is open to interpretation. My admin once complimented me on it and I replied “Who doesn’t want to be a gay cat?” and they stared at me for a second… Maybe they don’t want to be a cat or maybe they didn’t realise it was gay-coded? Or maybe I’m just socially awkward. (Ok, it is probably all three.) All the students at my main school know I’m part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community though, and we have easily 40 out queer kids out of 350… and those kids know what this shirt is about. I see them grin and that makes it worth it.
This shirt is pretty clear about its message – the word “love” coloured in the flags of LGBTQ, Non-Binary, Pansexual and Trans people. I wore this on Trans Day of Visibility, which was very emotionally draining for me. You can find out why here in my stories.
Looks unexceptional until your read it: I don’t think many people read this shirt when I wear it – it is dense and text heavy. But oh my, when you read it, it hits hard. You can read the text in the caption above. I wore the linen shirt buttoned up for an interview, and then added the t-shirt for a casual errands look!
Pretty Clear: This Christmas I asked Jamie to buy me a Black Lives Matter shirt. I couldn’t decide myself between shirts with the classic logo or more whimsical designs. He found this one released by Black Sabbath in their logo font, and I think it’s perfect! Clear but matches my style. I do also have the traditional logo as a patch on my work backpack.
Hard to miss: If you know what #BLM means, then this shirt is in your face. If you are a little kid and you don’t know your letters or about social justice, then I guess it is subtle! I made this shirt using reverse applique back in June 2020 so I could wear it for the local protest march.
Say it like it is: My family are settlers in Canada, and our ancestors opportunities came at the cost of Indigenous lives and ways of knowing. Beyond that, I see the lasting impacts of colonial racism, disenfranchisement and resource extraction in the lives of the English language learners I teach. This shirt is a good conversation starter at school, at least with the kids old enough to know what these words mean.
Least Subtle: You really can’t miss this one! I bought it because kids are STILL using “gay” as an insult on the yard, and I wanted to have a shirt to wear when I talk to their classes about it. “Words have meaning”, is my typical pitch, followed by “You sound ignorant when you use the word the wrong way. Find a better way to insult your friends. Our identity is not an insult.” This shirt is a big hit with queer kids and adults alike!
I didn’t mention it much this week, but my accessories also tell a story. If you look closely at the outfits this week, I have trans earring, pride rainbow earrings, Progress Pride earrings made by a Metis woman, and lots of earring by other Indigenous makers. Kids compliment my earrings a lot, and it gives me a chance to say, “Thanks! These are by an Indigenous person!” or “Thanks! Did you notice they are the trans flag?” It’s just one more way to connect with classmates of the English Language Learners I support.
Buying Message Tees:
Most of my RTW shirts are from “print your own” companies like Red Bubble or Tee Public. They have thousands of designs that can be printed on a mug/hoodie/tee/tank/tote etc. The down side is that you don’t know much about the artist, and I doubt they get much of a cut… the benefit is that you can choose from a lot of sizes, colours and designs. I order a size 3x in the classic t-shirt design, which is large enough to go over my hips (my largest measurement). I re-hem the shirt and sleeves to fit my proportions. Essentially, in the most gendered terms, I buy a men’s shirt and crop it to a modern women’s fit – but we all know anyone can wear anything!
Sewing Your Own Message Clothing
There are so many ways to sew your own clothing with a message! I recommend reverse applique like my #BLM shirt if you need to make a quick message without time to shop. A google search will help you find fabric prints with a message, like my “Love” shirt. And of course, I’m always on the hunt for more subtle, classy fabrics like the face print that show a range of bodies, skin tones, or forms of beauty. If you can’t wear graphic tees at work, then I think sewing your own is a great option. If it brings you joy, you can also secretly dress as a trans flag, pansexual flag, or whatever other colours make you feel empowered.
Do you wear clothing with a message? I’d love to hear how it fits into your wardrobe. I’m curious too if you wear it to empower yourself, for others to see, or both?