Graphic tees: offensive or expressive?
According to SAITSA vice-president of student life Jose Landaverde, there’s an “unwritten rule” that certain clothing items shouldn’t be worn in public.
While Landaverde believes that all clothing is expressive, “wearing a slogan for the sake of wearing it is ridiculous.”
Both international and local clothing companies have jumped on the vulgarity bandwagon. The popular Rocket custom t-shirt boutique features hundreds of t-shirt designs, boasting slogans such as “The condom broke,” “Milf,” and “Bieber my balls.” The store has two Calgary-based retail stores and has expanded its presence to an international level.
Emerging global street style women’s labels such as Petals and Peacocks and Local Celebrity are less subtle with clothing designs, using slogans that include “Cocaine blows,” “68 and I owe you 1,” and “Fuck shit up.”
However, some T-shirts have crossed the line, causing school suspensions, lawsuits, and more.
In May 2012, twelfth grade Nova Scotia student William Swiminer was suspended from school for wearing a shirt that read “Life is wasted without Jesus.” While Swiminer explained that the shirt was an expression of his religious beliefs, the school board deemed it offensive and told Swiminer he would not graduate if he continued to wear the shirt at school.
In an interview with the Chronicle Herald last year, Swiminer said, “I’m not against anybody’s religion or culture, but at the same time, I have my own opinions. I have my own religion, and according to laws that have been around for hundreds of years, I’m allowed to express that.”
First-year nutrition for healthy lifestyles student Sandra Escobedo says that she hasn’t seen too many offensive shirts around campus, but doesn’t really make a point to look out for them either.
“We are all entitled to an opinion—what makes one opinion better than the other? If it discriminates, yes it should be banned. If not, well mind your own business,” she said.
According to SAIT’s Student Code of Conduct, “Harassment in any form (spoken, written, graphical, etc.)” is considered non-academic misconduct, and may be penalized with expulsion.
“Is there any place at school for [offensive slogans]? Probably not,” said Landaverde.
In 2011, Boston’s mayor Bob Menino attempted to ban Nike shirts, explaining to USA Today that the shirts had “drug and profanity wordplay” that appealed to “the lowest common denominator.”
While the prohibition never actually happened, these controversies fueled the fashion industry—offensive self-expression has never been in higher demand.
“[People choose] to express themselves using clothes,” said Landaverde.
“The only way to get a message across these days is by wearing it.”