It’s been a busy few weeks for collabs, collections and the like this week – we’ll get there eventually – but something a little different for today in the form of an Instagram account that caught my eye a few weeks back.
When I first talked about C.E way back when I made a joke about the extra-large labels on the inside of their clothing, asking, ‘Why not?’ Nonetheless, there was a joke in there somewhere about the notion of extravagant decoration in a place where nobody can see it, but the images over at Label Time shed a new light on this tiny aspect of clothing and the role it plays.
As its name suggests, Label Time is an Instagram account dedicated solely to clothing labels. Initially one person’s pursuit, the account has since grown into an aggregator for weird and wonderful hangtags and woven labels, providing a window into an oft-forgotten dimension of fashion.
It’s a time capsule into a period where slick 21st century branding is preceded by clichéd graphics and elementary symbols. Some labels seem to reach out to their mark with complimentary phrases – ‘In Charge’ or ‘Foxy Lady’ – whilst others ooze with a primitive sartorial bite that now seems better suited on the pages of a Four-Pins article. It’s like when you first discovered punk as a kid and stuck safety pins through all your clothes for no reason; you know the words fit, you know you’re on the right track, you’re playing all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order. These labels seem to understand the idea of clothing and fashion as a language but they lack the nuance and refined 21st century brand vocabulary.
One of the things that eventually struck me about these labels is the purpose they might have served; in the age of the internet and digital media it’s easy to be dismissive of a loud, kitschy neck tag laden with imagery, but in a world without fashion blogs and perpetual marketing these labels presented the one clear opportunity for that single garment to market itself to the customer.
Some of these labels seriously try to convey a whole lifestyle in a few square centimeters and its because that’s the only thing a lot of clothing brands could do without billboard advertising budgets. This is then accompanied by these common-denominator brand names that aspire towards Ronseal authenticity – what better way to market towards the stoner than to stick a dude smoking a baton on your label and call it ‘blunt’?
It reminded me of my own experience with labels as well and the different roles a little patch of fabric can play. Anybody who’s ever collected old Supreme collections knows about checking the label reverse for the ‘SUPREME’ hologram – “SUP.T.2003” etc. for older collections, don’t email me – and in the early days of Norse et al that little white tag was a mark to be worn with pride.
The same is true with the black and gold of a NBHD or WTaps label or the Levi’s tab and its derivations; when Fuct first launched SSDD I knew I had to get hold of some. Seeing that OG logo on a red woven tab sent its status immediately skyward from any nice piece of clothing to wardrobe essential, purely by virtue of the essence of the red tab. That in itself is a demonstration of the symbolic language that some of these labels carry and the way that they can speak.
Returning to Label Time, this account is a literal treasure trove of the first stepping stones in branding and identity as a visual language; when ‘J.F. Hinkleberg & Son’ did away with the archaic and gave way to ‘A Couple of Guys’; the initial step where that shirt on the rack reached out to the person staring back at it and – rather than simply saying, ‘this is a shirt’ – declared, ‘I am shirt.’ And oh, how we hear them roar.