TikTok’s ‘subway shirt’ trend shines a light on everyday harassment

the ‘subway shirt’ trend shines a light on everyday harassment
'Subway shirt' trend shines a light on harassmentGetty Images

While TikTok can be a great source of senseless downtime, a way to unwind and let your mind be filled with cat videos and ASMR, it also serves as a way for us normies to share our experiences of the world and shine a light on issues that so often don't get the attention they deserve.

To that end, the 'subway shirt' trend – which sees women using a shirt or other item of clothing to divert unwanted attention while using public transport – has dominated many of our For You pages this past week.

"Just know if you see me in a white button down, the real fit is underneath," one TikToker wrote on the platform, alongside a video that showed her removing her 'subway shirt' to reveal a cut-out top underneath. "Ladies, don't forget to bring your subway shirt! Otherwise known as an outfit dampener, it's an oversized shirt we wear over our cute outfits so strange men don't bother you," another woman wrote.

Already, the #subwayshirtnyc hashtag has racked up over 1.8 billion (yes, billion) views, but – as we sadly all know – harassment isn't just an issue that women in New York have to face on the daily, although the trend did originate there.

Since the 'subway shirt' trend went viral on TikTok, women across the world have spoken out in droves about the ways they alter their outfits to feel 'safer' when out and about, including here in the UK.

"I’ve done this for so long it’s become a subconscious part of getting dressed – so I’m glad it’s being talked about!" said Sophie Milner, an influencer living in London, explaining that she regularly changes "out of over the knee boots into trainers" or puts "leggings on under a sheer skirt" before changing into her real outfit upon reaching her destination.

"As someone who has always loved expressing themselves with fashion, wearing outfits that make ME feel good about myself, it frustrates me so much that I have to tailor my choices so often to avoid unwanted attention and stay safe," she added, echoing what many of us have been shouting for decades.

It seems, however, that messaging has been confused by some, with a handful of people taking to Twitter to argue that the trend perpetuates the idea that clothes cause assault – which they most certainly do not. "TikTokkers in NYC are wearing oversized shirts to stop harassment, but the trend perpetuates the idea that clothes cause assault," one person tweeted, adding: "It's not true — assaulters cause assault."

But, are any of the TikTokers actually justifying this behaviour? Is anyone celebrating their 'subway shirt'? The answer is, of course, no. They aren't. What they are doing is using this platform as a way to highlight the everyday harassment that women face and the exhaustive measures so many of us take in an – often unfruitful – attempt to avoid unwanted attention or worse, interaction.

What's more, none of the women wearing their 'subway shirts' have claimed that this mere item of clothing will protect them from any and all harm. A shirt is not an invisibility cloak, or iron-clad shield, after all. Rather, we hope that by wearing a shirt/blazer/jacket (delete as appropriate), this might, just maybe, fend off the uncomfortable stares of strangers, whose eyes linger inappropriately, burning into our skin with every second that passes.

Like the many other alterations to our daily lives that we as women make almost by default – clenching our keys between our fingers as we walk home, avoiding drinks that have been left unattended, even if only for a mere moment – the 'subway shirt' is just another addition to factor in and although it doesn't guarantee our safety, it clearly offers peace of mind to some. Myself included.

For help with any of the issues discussed in this article, visit: Rape Crisis England & Wales, Rape Crisis Scotland or Rape Crisis Northern Ireland. Rape Crisis provides emotional and practical support for survivors, families and friends.

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