How street art has influenced T-shirt design through history

street art, t-shirt design, header image

When someone talks about graffitis, it’s usually very controversial. Some love it, others hate it. Either way, street art is present in almost every aspect of everyday life. Since the earliest beginnings of graffiti, back in the rime of ancient civilisations, people had the need to publicly express their opinions by leaving written messages in public spaces. As the world changed through the centuries, this type of expression has only grown.

Let’s fast forward to 70’s New York, a time and place usually referred to as the birthplace of modern street art. As you can imagine, the city looked and felt completely different from what it is today. It was a world movement but New York artists took it one step further.

 

street art, t-shirt design, black denim jacket

 

The entire city was covered in all types of graffiti: street art, social messages, and murals. Needless to say, authorities disapproved and that created the need to present this rising form of art and communication in a different light. The laws started changing. Penalties for graffiti became harsher but the artists prevailed. They had to adapt, and evolve. Little by little, street art became something much bigger. It moved from the walls and subway cars to our everyday lives.

Nowadays, you can now find street art implemented in all types of things, ranging from food, through clothing and all the way to technology. Street art opens different ways of communication and expression, and that’s why it is so versatile. For this blog post, we want to focus on the impact street art has made on fashion, more specifically on T-shirt styles.

 

street art, black t-shirt, obey

 

Street Art and Fashion

When it comes to street art, opinions are always divided but it’s undoubtedly more appealing to the middle classes. Street art is spontaneous — or at least presents itself that way — and it’s always informal. As it shouts out social messages most people can relate to.

It helps people express their opinions. Another amazing thing about street art is that styles always change and adapt. They vary from Oldskool and Wildstyle which were incredibly popular back in the 80’s, through Abstract or Fat Cap, the Blockbuster, 3D, Stencil Style and all the way to Toon Style. Each and every one of these styles have their own rules but as with any other art, these serve more like guidelines for creating something unique.

 

street art, white t-shirt, print

 

With so many different styles and messages, it’s to be expected that almost everyone can find some form of street art they like — and there’s no industry that understands this better than fashion. Today you can find labels like Louis Vuitton, Moschino, and Gucci but also sportswear brands like Nike, Adidas or Puma implementing street art in their designs. Even if you’re not into high fashion or branded products, street art can be found on almost any piece of clothing you want.

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However, their impact on T-shirts is undeniable. Some labels made their name solely with using street art as their centrepiece. Companies like The Quiet Life, Dirty Velvet, Volcom, Threadless, and many more, focused exclusively on street art, so much so that it became a part of our everyday lives. As high-quality screen printing techniques become more and more available, it’s only normal that more and more of street art is going to get off the walls and end up on T-shirts.

Key Artists

street art, keith haring, mural

Keith Haring – Keith Haring was one of the first street artists that expressed the idea of combining elements of popular culture and exclusive ‘high art’. He used quite a lot of colours, but more importantly, he was creating unique pieces of art seemingly showing the simplicity of elements in his artwork. He was also always trying to send out a strong social message, whether it was about AIDS, drug addiction or apartheid.

 

 

He illustrated serious issues in a fun, upbeat aesthetic which made him stand out as a street artist. One of his many collaborations includes working with Vivienne Westwood, on her ‘Witches’ collection in the 80’s. Many fashion experts highlight him as one of the main reasons why street art became an essential part of fashion and T-shirt design.

 

Jean Michel Basquiat, fallen angel, street art

Jean Michel Basquiat – One of the most celebrated and most commercially exploited street artists of his time is most definitely Jean Michel Basquiat. He emerged from the punk scene, and he had a very quick rise to fame, as he combined numerous styles to express witty pieces with a strong counter-cultural message. His impact was so significant, that his prints are even being used today as both designs for high-fashion purposes and as T-shirt prints all over the world.

 

street art, good guy boris

Good Guy Boris – Probably one of the key artists that helped popularise street art is Good Guy Boris. Not that much of a writer but more focused on documenting and taking photos of the entire process, Good Guy Boris helped outsiders learn about the entire street art subculture. During that time, he often clashed with the authorities. Ending up in jail at one point. However, he kept introducing the ‘atypical’ idea of the street art underground, eventually opening its doors to wider audiences. Quite a lot of T-shirt and fashion designers have stated that Good Guy Boris’ books were their main inspiration.

 

street art, banksy, mural

Banksy – The first name that comes to mind when people say authentic street art for large masses is probably Banksy. This artist started his career in Bristol during the 90’s with strong social commentary pieces. He collaborated with numerous artists and even musicians.

His unique designs and his original work made him quite popular, even though his identity is still unknown. He was one of the first street artists that exhibited his works in a ‘high-art’ gallery and that helped him become famous. In 2006 quite a lot of celebrities became interested in his work, and they started buying his prints which helped him raise money and establish his own company.

 

street art, banksy, white t-shirt with print

 

When it comes to clothing, and especially T-shirts, Banksy’s designs are probably some of the most used ones nowadays due to the strong message they represent. It is safe to say that Bansky changed the way the world sees street art.


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