Heterosexism is hot this season

If we can't get rid of "boyfriend" jeans, we should at least get them a new name

By Kate Harding
Published January 5, 2010 6:06PM (EST)

As is often the case for those of us who live our lives on the dull, discounted edge of fashion, I was just getting used to the revival of one all-too-recent decade when the next one started making a comeback. And the inevitable return of the '90s has resurrected a trend even more irritating than skinny jeans: "Boyfriend jeans."

Worse yet, it's not just jeans. It's boyfriend shirts and boyfriend jackets and boyfriend sweaters. If you're even less attuned to fashion than I am, the whole genre can still be explained by Meryn Cadell's early-'90s ode to that last one (video below):

Now the sweater isn't going to fit you of course/you kind of have to roll up the sleeves in a jaunty way/that says this is the sweater belonging to a boy/ and the boy is a genuine hunka hunka burning love/and this is not just some hand me down from your brother or your father

Never mind if you're a grown woman, not into men, already married, someone who can't stand the cutesiness of the word "boyfriend," all of the above, whatever. All female-type people want the world to know we have boyfriends! And that is best accomplished by wearing ill-fitting clothes with the sleeves and cuffs rolled up jauntily! As Feministing's Miriam put it back in September, "You know, like you just slipped on a pair of your male lover's pants and look how great they look on you? But let's be clear, you don't actually want to wear men's pants. Since wearing men's clothing might make people think you're a lesbian (which you're obviously not), let's make sure everyone knows you are just trying your boyfriend's jeans on. Ugh."

And here's the cherry on top: That post was about the Gap selling "boyfriend jeans" to girls as young as 4. Today, Feministing notes that they're also available for girls who will still be sporting diapers under them. A friend of Jessica's writes that these are the only toddler girl style available "that is not (a) sparkled or pink, (b) embossed with flowers ... or (c) "skinny" (yes, they do make those for toddlers ...)" and concludes, "Yes, that's right, if my 2 year old daughter actually wants to wear comfortable jeans with nothing on them but denim, she must have borrowed them from her BOYFRIEND." I guess that's better than "stilettos fashioned for the crib set," but only just.

Of course, like all trends, this too, shall pass -- but before we see it again in the mid- to late 2020s, could we please consider a name change? One that's not so heterosexist, plain old sexist and, when applied to pre-adolescents, downright creepy? (And that's without even addressing the presumption that if you are a woman in a heterosexual relationship, your boyfriend's clothes will be big on you.) Perhaps we could go with something more descriptive, like "oversized"? "Relaxed"? "Those wretched things Katie Holmes went and brought back"? I'm not too fussy, really -- but I am one of a great many women who, for various reasons, neither has nor wants a boyfriend and wouldn't be looking to advertise it on my ass if I did. For those women who do like wearing jeans cut for guys, here's a tip: Gap's men's straight fit jeans are $15 cheaper than the "boyfriends."


Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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