Wearing oversized clothes can make you look like a slob. But if boyfriends don't like boyfriend clothes that's good enough for me.
Boyfriend jeans, boyfriend coat, boyfriend jacket – is the "boyfriend" fashion trend over yet?Vanessa, by email
No, and it never, ever will be for several very simple reasons. For those sweet souls out there whose minds have remained unsullied by the flotsam and jetsam of the fashion world, I shall explain. When an item of womenswear is prefaced with the noun-turned-adjective "boyfriend", what this really means is "oversized". The "boyfriend" descriptor refers to the idea that the clothes should look as if you borrowed them from your boyfriend – geddit? GEDDIT?! – but is really there because the fashion world has the mentality of an especially immature high schooler. Therefore, it thinks that to insinuate one has a boyfriend makes one look really cool and desired and validated (see: endless fashion blogs and tumblrs about models' boyfriends) and therefore it is super sexy to look like you just rolled out of bed (probably from having sex! Only cool people are allowed to have sex, ya know!), pulled on your boyfriend's clothes and hit the streets.
And I don't mind that, to be honest. Sure, it's annoying for the fashion industry to suggest that the coolest look woman can rock is to look as if she has a boyfriend, but if this is just the fancy wording the fashion world needs in order to endorse women dressing like slobs, well, it all evens out. Because, let's be honest here, wearing oversized or "boyfriend" clothes does make you look like a slob: I know it, you know it and the people flogging you the clothes certainly know it. Sure, the models might look all gamine and cute in their "boyfriend" jeans in magazines ("I'm so thin my jeans are barely clinging to my hipbones!") but do you notice how the jeans in those photos still have a bit of shape to them? Whereas when you put them on you look like you've put on your dad's old jeans to do some decorating? That's because when "boyfriend" clothes are photographed in magazines, stylists do clever things, such as clip them in the back and pin up the hems to make them look a little better.
I was in a popular high-street retailer the other day, one we'll call "Le Shop de Top", and happened to find myself in the near vicinity of the extensive denim section. "Wow, look at those awesome jeans," I mused, admiring a pair of loose-but-cool jeans on disembodied mannequin's legs. I began to wander around the denim section, determined to find a pair of these surely life-changing beauties when I looked up and noticed something intriguing about the jeans on the half-mannequin: on the back, they were tweaked with little bull clips.
Now, if jeans need to be clipped on a mannequin – even half a mannequin – in order to look good, they will sure as hell look a hot mess on any actual human being. Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line is, of course, one of the most famous rules in the world (thank you, The Princess Bride). But only slightly less famous is "Never buy anything if the shop assistants needed to pin it on the mannequin." And, in any matter, Le Shop de Top is now selling something called "girlfriend jeans" which either suggests an unexpected acknowledgement of same-sex relationships from a high-street retailer or, more likely, a realisation that women want something a little more feminine than bullclips from their jeans, and a hasty re-naming was in order.
I've been thinking about this whole boyfriend issue because it so happened that I went shopping last weekend and thus we begin the fascinating story called Hadley Buys a Coat. I'd completely fallen for a particular tweed coat after seeing it featured in the Guardian's Weekend magazine a month or so ago and, having noticed that its retailer was having a 50% off sale, I promptly went off to find the coat I already thought of as "mine". And there it was, in just my size. I tried it on and while I glanced vaguely at how it fitted me, I was really looking at how gorgeous this coat was, so I bought it. When I got home I showed it to a certain person of the opposite sex and he took one look and declared: "What's wrong with you? It's too big." Mortified, I looked in the mirror and conceded that it was a bit big. Distraught, I brought it into the office on Monday to gauge the opinions of my fashion colleagues.
"What's wrong with you? It's perfect!" they all cried. So I looked in the mirror and realised that what I'd inadvertently done was buy a boyfriend coat and, in that regard, it was perfect. It was also too big and, in the world of boyfriend clothes, those two statements are not contradictory.
But perhaps the most interesting lesson to draw from the timeless story that is Hadley Buys a Coat (truly, it will be studied by scholars for centuries) is that boyfriends don't like boyfriend clothes. I think this is what I like most about boyfriend clothes: despite their decidedly unfeminist name, they are not made for male approval. Clearly, not all men are like cliches from Nuts magazine and want women in skintight clothes, but I would wager that most men prefer it when women wear clothes that fit them as opposed to shapeless sacks. I've got nothing against male approval as a side effect but any trend that suggests women should dress primarily for their own pleasure and comfort is a trend to be saluted. So I didn't make a shopping mistake – I made a feminist gesture. Sort of. Sure.
• Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email email@example.com
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Rainbows and Fairydust