“Boyfriend” Clothes: Perpetuation Patriarchal Dominance and Heterosexist Norms

This post is by one of our new volunteer bloggers, Bri.

It is that time of year again- the most capitalist time of the year that is. With the major gift giving holidays just around the corner, we are finding ourselves bombarded with ads for various retailers, and many of us I presume are searching clothing racks in an effort to get our gift shopping done. With all of this focus on shopping and retail, I find myself pondering this recent trend of “boyfriend” apparel.

The trend began a few years ago,  and the idea is that “boyfriend” apparel is more loose fitting and comfortable, like men’s clothing, but is tailored for women. The concept may seem innocent enough at first glance, but upon further analysis, the underlying heterosexism and patriarchal dominance is clear. If women want looser fitting, more comfortable clothing, why not just buy men’s clothes? Well, because that would go against the gender binary, and patriarchy just can’t have that. So to mitigate this situation, the concept of “boyfriend” apparel was born. By labeling something as “boyfriend” apparel, the comfort associated with men’s clothing is apparent, but it is also giving implicit permission to women to wear this by calling it “boyfriend” apparel and selling it in women’s departments. The reason I argue that the label is a form of patriarchal permission which perpetuates a submissive position of women is because the media often produces images of women wearing their boyfriend’s clothing, and normalizes this, hence the normalizing label. By using a normalized label, it makes it ok, and normal, for women to wear clothing that supposedly fits like men’s clothing (though I can tell you right now, it does NOT fit like men’s clothing). This normalized label also perpetuates heterosexism because it is based in heterosexist images of women wearing their boyfriend’s clothing, and because these images are so frequently reproduced in the media and the concept is now being reproduced in retail, the idea of the boyfriend/girlfriend-hetersexual romance is being further centered and normalized, and this only further marginalizes those outside of this exclusive idea, such as queer couples and polyamorous people.

To sum up this argument, “boyfriend apparel” is super problematic, and frankly, in my opinion, fails at its own goal because it still fits like most mainstream women’s clothing (tightly and uncomfortably, especially in the case of underwear such as boybriefs and boyshorts). This style’s label perpetuates the patriarchal idea of male superiority and authority, and further marginalizes queer and other non-normative couples by positioning hetersexual-boyfriend/girlfriend romance as the standard and norm for society. The take home message: think twice before buying those boyshorts or those boyfriend jeans. Consider buying clothes that fight two birds with one stone by upsetting the gender binary and combatting the holiday monster known as corporate greed by looking into small businesses such as Marimacho, The Butch Clothing Company, and Kreuzbach 10. Also consider checking out etsy. While etsy does conform to the gender binary in the sense that clothing and apparel are divided into “mens” and “womens”, many of the artists and crafters who sell their work on the site do not adhere to such notions. We can look good and feel good too, without perpetuating patriarchal and heterosexist norms, and without buying into corporate greed.

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