A spectre is haunting social media: the spectre of socially conscious young people wearing slogan baseball caps whose messages are tailored to the moment.
Leading the charge is a £20 black cap emblazoned with “hate landlords”, stitched in white, sold through the leftwing media organisation Novara.
This is closely followed by Pasadena Leisure Club’s “Stay off my day off” embroidered cap, a phrase that in some ways speaks more broadly to workers’ rights (albeit for £55), and in the same sentiment, a blue cap adorned with “I don’t work here” sold by Idea bookshop, a London-based retailer beloved by the fashionable left. This cap also comes in white.
All the anti-capitalist caps – “anti-caps”, if you will – are selling briskly, according to the places that stock them. But it is the Hate Landlords hat that has captured the mood.
“Political merch has always been a way of expressing frustration or to look at the other side of the coin: hope,” says Vicky Spratt, a housing journalist and author of the book Tenants. “Having a slogan on a cap that expresses the frustration felt by so many renters today might seem niche, but it’s incredibly universal.”
The cap began as a joke, says Gary McQuiggin, Novara’s head of video, who came up with the idea. It snowballed into something far more charged, he says, because it “taps into a feeling of exasperation that many renters feel, where your material circumstances are declining, the country itself is declining, and there is this person who you give a huge chunk of your salary to and in many cases they don’t really do much to earn it”.
Spratt agrees, likening the disparity between salaries and rent to the “sisyphean experience of rolling a rock up a hill only to watch it roll back down”.
Slogan tees have been an expression of wearers’ values for years. First popularised in the late 1960s by Mr Freedom, which sold Disney’s Donald Duck T-shirts on Kings Road in London, it was Vivienne Westwood in the 1970s and Katharine Hamnett in the 1980s who gave theirs a more political bent. An image of Hamnett meeting Margaret Thatcher in a “58% Don’t Want Pershing’’ T-shirt, referencing the US nuclear missiles, featured in newspapers and magazines across the globe. The designer’s choice of clothing marked a historic moment that might otherwise have been forgotten.
As long as there have been revolutionary politics, there has been revolutionary imagery. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament logo lent itself perfectly to clothing and the Che Guevara t-shirt became so ubiquitous that it was almost entirely drained of its political significance.
The choice of the cap, which is so closely associated with streetwear, is the next logical conclusion of slogan wear. “Baseball caps are fun, but they’re functional, too,” says Spratt. “Wearing something is not just about fashion – it’s a reflection of the situation.”
Neither McQuiggin nor Spratt think slogan caps have the power to change the situation. The irony of spending money on an anti-capitalist movement is not lost on Spratt. “For one, you need £20 in the first place,” she says. But it’s not simply about selling something but taking a mood, rendering it easy to access and put into action to raise awareness. “Sometimes you just have to have a bit of catharsis and that’s it,” says McQuiggin.
With a recession looming, many organisations have had to diversify their income streams – profits of the caps go to Novara’s journalism, a much-needed boon at a time when the media’s traditional revenue streams are in decline.
But with just over two weeks until Christmas, if you are still seeking a gift for the comrade in your life who shares everything, you had better move fast. “There are only a handful left but they’ll be sold out before Christmas,” says McQuiggin. “For what it’s worth, the Marx shirt and the ‘literally a communist’ T-shirts are both super popular, too.”