Dundee's Pride celebrations are just around the corner and, in 2019, you can buy a Pride t-shirt in just about any shop on the high street. It’s easy to forget that, just a few years ago, if you wanted to get decked out in your loudest and proudest gear your options were much more limited: if you didn’t have a local stockist your choices were to buy online or through mail order (see below), or do it yourself.
We're fortunate to have a small selection LGBTQ+ t-shirts and vests in the V&A's collection, which came in as part of a donation in 1997. These date from the early eighties to the mid-nineties. Some were produced for particular events, such as Hackney Lesbian Strength and Gay Pride 1993, while others are more gay coded, like a knock-off Tom of Finland vest.
Looking through these objects in the stores, the one I find the most compelling is also the most mysterious. It’s a plain white t-shirt which has been decorated with fabric paints. “LOVE” is written across it, with a pink triangle in place of the V. The format is reminiscent of the Robert Indiania pop art print, with a stripped back, gay liberation twist.
We don’t know who made this shirt or what their intention was in wearing it. Perhaps it was something the wearer made themselves to wear to a Pride event. Maybe it was one of many made by an underfunded HIV/AIDS activist group, referencing the use of the pink triangle in Silence=Death artworks.
Whatever the intention behind this t-shirt, it shows us that activism doesn’t need a big budget. Do-it-yourself apparel allows makers to remove themselves from commercial or mass sentiments to express themselves freely and precisely. It can also be part of important community building for marginalised groups. In making together we also come together.
Alice Power is an Assistant Curator at V&A South Kensington and Co-Chair of their LGBTQ working group.
Dundee Pride stands against discrimination and violence towards the LGBTQ+ community and aims to progress LGBTQ+ equality, awareness and inclusion within Dundee and the region.