Plain white square

The Plain White Movement was started by the Beatles with the album cover of "The Beatles" in 1968, which was designed by the pop artist Richard Hamilton. For quite some time it was more or less confined to the activities of John Lennon and Yoko Ono before the reformation of the group at Live Aid. It became a popular fashion, cultural and social movement among youth culture in the years following their reformation

Early History

In spring 1963, Yoko Ono wrote the haiku-like poem Cloud Piece, later included in the collection Grapefruit. This was to prove the inspiration for Lennon's 1971 song ''Imagine', the title song for his album, and which became the anthem for the movement later. The lyrics of the song intimated a utopia where there were no countries, war or religion, a message he expressed on 1st April 1973 in the form of the imaginary country of Nutopia': The Country Of Peace, whose aim was to subvert the concepts of nationality and territory. Taking the white theme of the album cover, he adopted a plain white rectangle as the "flag". Little else was made of the notion  publicly until Live Aid.

Later movement

The plain white motif was adopted into the design of the Live Aid movement, initially as merchandise and publicity for the concert itself, with embossed rather than printed details, then as the design of a T-shirt used for the Run The World sponsored run a year later. White T-shirts were later worn as a symbol of a commitment to global fraternity and peace beyond nationalism by the young. A little ironically, this was then adopted in the form of simple but popular unadorned clothing and other items such as mugs, plain white posters and mystery CDs from various artists with blank covers. This was criticised by some as indicating the naivete of Generation X and their tendency to adopt tokenistic gestures rather than take social issues and global problems seriously. However, many people involved took the ideas much more seriously and didn't just regard it as a fashion statement or a new form of ironic consumerism.


In a move of which Lennon didn't really approve, but over which he had no control due to his refusal to adopt any kind of control over what might otherwise be regarded as his intellectual property, the Plain White tendency was adopted into fashion more widely in the next few years. Clothing tended to be unisex, loose-fitting, simple, white and without fastenings or trimmings, including white trousers, long-sleeved T-shirts, simple sweatshirts and longer tunics for both sexes. There were also cardigan-like garments with no fastenings open at the front and tank tops, and entire suits of white. The fabrics were generally from natural cellulose-based fibres.

A significant practical problem with such items of clothing was that of keeping them clean and white. One of the results was a trend in washing powder to contain stronger bleaches and fluorescent additives. Another consequence was that people tended to throw away everything non-white because of problems with washing them together.

One form of adornment which did exist in plain white clothes was the appearance of embossed designs and slogans on the garments rather than print, notably the Peace symbol.


Plain White was also a genre of pop music, incorporating bands such as the Plain White T's, the White Stripes, White Flag, White Sabbath, Snow Patrol and the Nutopian Liberation Army. These bands tended to be strongly influenced by the Beatles, consisting of four men, two vocalists and producing albums with plain white covers which often gave few clues as to the precise nature of the band or album other than subtle clues known only to the cognoscenti such as the year of copyright or a serial number, which again was usually embossed rather than printed, and hidden in increasingly obscure locations such as on the third page of a five page folded inlay card. In extreme cases, the entire album could even be completely silent or consist entirely of white noise. This meant that musical styles had to be very similar to appeal to a wide audience.


One long-term influence of the Plain White Movement in fashion was the virtual disappearance of skirts and dresses and the unisexualisation of clothing. From that point onward, both sexes mainly wore the same styles of clothing except for underwear, which however also needed to be white in order not to show. At the time, formal wear tended to be more gender-specific but later on, after the plain white movement had gone out of fashion, even this became unisex and consequently changed dramatically in style.

Just as the onset of the trend had led to widespread disposal of more colourful and darker clothing for practical reasons, the trend itself finished suddenly for the same reasons. The use of embossing also became a long-term trend in clothing and other design features.

The use of white furnishings, vehicles and electronic goods also continued, partly because it was less practical to buy a sofa or install fitted carpets of a different colour just because fashions had changed. Sinclair's computers shifted from black to white cases at this point too. The option of switching the colours of the display from green and black to white and black also appeared at this time.

In terms of its social significance, there was virtually no long-term influence and most now view the movement as having a charming naivete in the calm before the storm of events characterising the second decade of the Caroline Era.

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