Harriet Walker: Roses are red, violets are blue, poetry on a T-shirt: Why? Not a clue

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O sing Heav'nly Muse, that on hither High Street and thither Indoor Market didst inspire, Jumpers and T-shirts bedecked with Wrought Phrases and Poetic Turns, Exhortations and Inscriptions, with, erm... words.

I've hated slogan clothing for years, ever since someone wore a T-shirt that read "Never trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn't die" to our sixth form one day, and was hailed as an alt-comic genius.

Imagine, then, my ire at the next generation of clothes with inane writing on: a range of cashmere jumpers emblazoned with lines from famous poems. Wordsmiths ransacked include Plath and Keats. Quite aside from the inevitable meaninglessness that comes of being quoted on knitwear, this strikes me as disrespectful in two ways: first, that plastering the brilliantly eloquent but essentially broken-minded phrases of a depressive across your boobs isn't much of a memorial; and second – a terrible irony this – that if Keats had only managed to get hold of a cashmere jumper in the first place, maybe he wouldn't have got that nasty cough.

Still, applause to anyone who manages to fit "Every woman adores a fascist" across their front; you can just imagine a punk marching it round Camden Market with a face on like a grumpy sausage dog.

But really, why anyone would want clothes with writing on is beyond me. The aspirational allure of a designer name scrawled across your solar plexus I can just about understand (even if it is tacky), but I'm foxed by the number of people who choose to advertise their friendship rituals ("I'm with Stupid") or psychological make-up ("99 per cent angel, 1 per cent devil").

Words on clothes imply an expectation that everyone else cares what's going on in your head. It's just a different way of playing the tiresome office clown, and no one will want to stand next to you on the bus if your T-shirt suggests you're a psychopath – or worse, a poetry fan.

I don't argue all this from a clothing purist's perspective; quite the opposite – if fashion is one of the only genuine forms of self-expression left in this commercialised modern era, then why express yourself by way of some corporate graphic designer's tired idioms and over-exposed bons mots? Get over yourself and go and read a book, so that words go into your head, rather than over it. A few exceptions, naturally: a jumper with your name on strikes me as rather sweet and pragmatic for your first day in a new job, for example; and bonus points to anyone who manages to get Milton into their wardrobe, the verbose old bugger.

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