Sunday, January 31, 2010

Once and for all: Against 'boyfriend' apparel

Back in 2007, I held forth on the annoying trend of "boyfriend" clothes. They say it's 2010, but the latest issue of Vogue has a spread advising women to wear the "boyfriend" everything. No! Don't do it! Here's why:

-Again, watch as fashion ignores women with any kind of a noticeable chest. Aside from the woman-with-tousled-hair-in-nothing-but-a-men's-dress-shirt look, menswear and that which is menswear-inspired, worn by women with anything of a bust - particularly shorter women - equals frump. One notices in Vogue that the woman who oh so adores 'stealing' from her boyfriend's closet is a model, as is her boyfriend, and the two are around the same height and proportions. What a shocker that they can share clothes! On the plus side, this trend, if it sticks, could be a great thing for men who are 5'2" and curvaceous. (The real tragedy, far as I'm concerned, is that the dream space-age dress exists, but is designed for the flat-of-chest.)

-It's a clever marketing campaign based on the idea that 'boyfriend' is a word with which women are hoped to have positive associations (it means you're coupled off and thus not in want of a man, but too young and carefree to be settled down). What it also is is an implicitly homophobic marketing campaign, telling women it's fabulous and empowering to cross-dress, so long as you present said cross-dressing as borrowing from a male partner's wardrobe. The boyfriend need not exist - the sweater can be purchased straight from the women's section. But the dressing-like-a-dude must come with an implied 'but I'm into dudes, I promise!' (Also addressed, I see now, at Jezebel.)

-On a related note, boyfriend-clothing implies that women can only abandon girly-wear once they've found a man. The boyfriend sweater is for when a woman no longer needs to impress potential mates with a sweater that clings. There's this implication that the woman who wears boyfriend dress is whatever the opposite of desperate is, and that this I'm-taken quality is in itself her allure. How a woman in baggy, ill-fitting clothes will get this across is unclear, but that's what 'boyfriend' is meant to make the shopper believe. 'Boyfriend' also implies that women only dress in clothes that fit properly when single (or, perhaps, married but ready for something on the side.) As in, love means never wanting to wear a skirt.

-On a related related note, there's something irritating about the way the menswear trend sells itself as women's liberation. As with the flapper look of the 1920s, freedom for women to look more like men, however freeing to women with naturally non-curvy builds or non-girly inclinations, adds a whole set of new restrictions, and doesn't necessarily add up to clothing any more comfortable or practical than what women currently have as options, especially given the current, corset-less state of women's clothes. There is officially nothing more comfortable than a t-shirt-material dress - toss some leggings under it if the weather requires, and guaranteed, you're twice as cozy as a guy in equally formal attire. The only uncomfortable/impractical item specific to everyday womenswear these days is the super-high heel. (Bras are, so to speak, a toss-up, either making an outfit more or less comfortable, depending.) Vogue, meanwhile, suggests a form of androgynous dress that involves pairing the structured, tailored discomfort of menswear with thousand-dollar stiletto Louboutin sandal-booties. If 'boyfriend' meant 'flats', this might be something I could halfway get behind. But if it means hobbling around in a three-piece suit, no thanks.


Matt said...

do you consider the woman in the galaxy dress "flat of chest"? Or do you mean she's not flat of chest enough to be wearing it? I couldn't tell from how you wrote it. She doesn't seem flat chested, just un-bra'd, to my mind but I suppose others might have different standards. Mostly that dress looks too much like an octopus costume to my taste, though.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

The dress is designed for a woman more flat-chested than the model, who is in turn on the flat-chested end of the spectrum, if only because she's so thin overall. But even on the model, what's seen on the side has an unintentional aspect to it, and at any rate the dress offers nothing in the way of support, which is a problem when a dress clearly can't be worn with any bra, strapless or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I could be wrong, but the dress as shown might have been a work in progress, photographed in a workroom. I'm not sure the white padding at the shoulders would be visible in the finished product. The same dress is modeled on the designer's website; there's no side view, so it's hard to tell, but the bodice looks tightened up.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Interesting! So there's hope for me yet.

Britta said...

I'm not sure how the boyfriend fad is all that different from all the other "dress like a man" fads throughout the years, both high and lowbrow .i.e., 80s power suits, unisex grunge, oversized t-shirts & baggy pants, etc.

I went to middle school at the height of the grunge period, and I pretty much only wore boys clothes for 2 years. Many were my brother's, and some I convinced my mother to buy for me from the boy's section. I remember my 13y.o. self insisting to my incredulous mother that I *had* to buy a men's XL sweatshirt because it "fit my body the best." She contained her inner eye roll extremely well. Looking back at photos from that era, at best I look like little girl in her brother's clothes, and at worst I look like a shapeless, dorky blob.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


"I'm not sure how the boyfriend fad is all that different from all the other 'dress like a man' fads throughout the years"

It's different because none of the previous incarnations stipulated that the men's clothes in question come - if only in theory - from a man with whom one is romantically involved. There's nothing new or unusual about the clothes themselves, just the idea that the fun comes from implied intimacy with a dude, rather than from the excitement of doubling one's clothing options. Grunge-fashion may have been unisex and androgynous (to an extent - the babydoll dresses were mainly on the ladies), but I don't remember it being sold as 'borrow your boyfriend's flannel shirt.' It was more like, wear flannel, flannel's the new thing.