Maybe you can think of a photo shoot with a bare-legged model or a paparazzi picture of a famous actress wearing an oversized men’s shirt. “Boyfriend shirts” have been a wardrobe staple for years. As a former fashion editor gathering samples, I know that men’s designers preferred not to loan clothes to women’s magazines for celebrity portraits or editorial stories. Times have changed, however, and I hope designers, their policies, and their attitudes have too!
Bella Hadid in a boyfriend shirt
Fluid fashion can be found integrated into even the more traditional big box brands, designing clothes so everyone can shop at the same racks whatever their gender expression. For example, Uniqlo’s Lifewear now includes unisex clothing. Telfar, One DNA and Pangaia are among many collections conceived as fashion for all.
If you have taken a look at the runways in the last several years, big shirts are the gift that keeps on giving. Most notable are Balenciaga, Maison Margiela, Yohji Yamamamoto, and Commes des Garçons, who have men’s silhouettes and proportions in their DNA. More recently in the conversation is Demna Gvasalia (now known as Demna), currently the creative director at Balenciaga and co-founder of Vetements. What makes Demna worth noting here are his generous silhouettes and gender ambiguity rooted in streetwear and traditional menswear. There is no doubt he has been one of the most influential designers in the industry in the last 10 years.
The oversized shirt is ubiquitous on the streets, in stores, restaurants and subways in NYC. In fact, the classic men’s dress shirt with button front, long sleeves and a collar is de rigueur particularly when worn over the (apparent) summer uniform of cropped tops and shorts. Let’s consider the adage (abbreviated here) “out of necessity comes creativity”* and how the bigger silhouettes have a role in fashion and serve as a foil for unwanted attention.
Enter: The Subway Shirt
I have delved into this phenomenon, and as I see it, there are two converging points of origin: an established trend and protection from street harassment. The trendy oversized shirt is gaining a broader following as people realize that it can minimize uninvited attention and help them feel more comfortable in public spaces. Although what we wear is never an invitation to unwanted interaction, catcalling and invading personal space is often directed at individuals because of their actual or perceived gender expression, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, or disability. Studies show that more than 65% of respondents have experienced street harassment on multiple occasions.** The ingenuity of the subway shirt is that it builds on decades of fashion trends while making the wearer feel safe.
Senia Cade (@senia.cade) waiting for the L Elliot Richardson (@smelliotthegoat) walking in Bushwick
The good news is that there are an infinite number of ways to style roomy shirts. That said, I see another great reason (wink wink) to support brands like A Shirt Story that are versatile, unique, genderless, and pre-loved. While the subway shirt provides the necessary armor as streetwear, its provenance can be traced to the Japanese designers of the ’80s, with a direct through line to the major luxury designers today.
Stay cool and stay safe.
* Jonathan Schattke, scientist
** Stopstreetharassment.org Another statistic is 90% of respondents say they have been sexually harassed in public and in private.
** RightToBe.com has tips for victims of street or sexual harassment and bystanders.