When I was a teenager in the 80s, we all had badges – “Don’t blame me, I voted Labour” badges, and “Protest and survive” badges (an anti-nuclear slogan, riffing on the government information films, Protect and Survive), and badges with a great big smiling sun on them, the beginning of climate consciousness. (My cousin once pulled a policeman in a nightclub, and when she put her coat on and he saw the badges, he wouldn’t go home with her.)
Then political accessorising fell way out of fashion, until now. Anti-Trump sloganeering dominated the last New York fashion week, while we have anti-Brexit merch.
It has to be sweary – a “bollocks to Brexit”, at the very least. The pithiest iteration is from the artist Jeremy Deller, whose T-shirt range (which he actually started in 2017) replaces the endings of well-known phrases and sayings with “Fuck Brexit”.
Eg “Frankie say Fuck Brexit”. The beauty of them is that, once you’ve seen one, you want them all.
“It’s ground us down, the whole process has left us all ground down,” says Deller, 52, whose work goes far beyond T-shirts. “Humour is important in these conversations. It was probably used during the campaign but I can’t remember anyone using it.”
He ruminates on that for a second. “[Vote] Leave at least used imagery; they were cleverer with words and images, more viral. I should have really done these during the campaign.”
This new appetite for Brexit merch reflects two things: first, that remainers who were happy to leave the grown-ups to make the case in 2016 are getting a lot more trenchant. This isn’t about tariffs. This is about taking an idea and puncturing it, which can only really be done with swearing, and can’t be done much more quickly than on a T-shirt.
More broadly, that it is cool to care again. Political views didn’t disappear these last 30 years, but you kept them out of your wardrobe because they did not belong in your cred portfolio. And now they do. The uncool thing, this season, is to be without an opinion.
Deller has a favourite T-shirt: “John&Paul&George&FuckBrexit”. “I really ought to get one to Paul McCartney,” he says. “He’s totally engaged with the world, his heart is in the right place on so many other issues. I’m sure he would wear it if needs be. That might be what it takes.”