I’m not a catalogue shopper, in fact, I’m not much of a shopper period, but that doesn’t stop companies from sending me catalogues. Ordinarily they go straight into the recycling bin, but once in a while I will flip through one while eating my post-work snack to see what’s going on out there in the wide world of fashion (a land where I am immediately identifiable as a foreigner).
A few days ago I was moved to flip through the Delia*s catalogue because the back was splashed with the picture of a smiling teenaged girl laying the sunny grass wearing what were advertised as “boyfriend jeans.” Faithful Jewess with Attitude readers will remember that Jordan cracked into this trend in women’s clothing a few months ago. So I immediately thought, “I’ve got to tell Jordan about this.” As I continued flipping through the catalogue, though, I came across something so significant that I knew I would no longer just mention the boyfriend trousers sighting over lunch, but rather, would run into Jordan’s office waving the Delia*s catalog.
I had discovered the boyfriend cardigan.
The slouchy cardigan hanging loosely on a young model, who with the book tucked into her arm, seemed clearly meant to be presented as a student, called up images of high school in the1950s for me—lettered sweaters and class rings, stringent gender roles, signs and signals of possession, demonstration of ownership and affiliation—an “I’m taken, she’s my girl” kind of thing. Why the ‘50s? Well, I might be missing a major fashion trend, but I cannot think of any boy who wears cardigans today, except for those who do so in an ironic fashion or those who are forced into school uniforms that likely have been updated since the 1950s (or before).
“Earth Angel:” the Delia*s catalog called on another page, “think nature inspired prints and boyfriend cardigans.” “Oh, I’m thinking,” I responded to the insipid copy. I’m thinking that there’s something a little concerning here. Surely, the list of things in the world of women’s fashion to perplex a feminist mind is a long one and it is probably not topped by boyfriend trousers or cardigans, but I’d submit that these items be added.
It’s not because the clothes are “like men’s” that this fashion phenomenon disturbs me. Why shouldn’t women wear men’s clothes or clothes cut in ways that echo men’s styles? What rankles me is the boyfriend thing and the idea that these clothes are advertised, sold, and worn in the spirit of indicating female attachment to a man. It’s also this sense that male attachment is what makes wearing men’s clothes ok—what if a woman bought a men’s cardigans because she liked men’s cardigans? These ads seem to say, it’s acceptable for you to mess around a bit with gendered expectations about what you wear as a woman because you’re “borrowing” it from your boy.
The Delia*s item prompted me on a full internet tour of the various boyfriend cardigans for sale. They’re simply everywhere. From Bloomingdales’ “Exclusive Boyfriend Cardigan” (with button front closure and repulsive detachable rabbit fur tie), to Bergdorf Goodman, to Nordstroms, to Anne Taylor to Victoria’s Secret—it seems that everyone has dealt in to the boyfriend clothes game.
As a trend, though, it seems like the “boyfriend clothes” has spread out from being men’s clothes “made to fit the female body” (as if all female bodies are the same…), to being a supremely diffuse, but somehow still salient, marketing category. Whether or not a piece of clothing seems to be modeled on a men’s cut, it appears that marketers at least think they can sell more by framing them as your boyfriend’s clothes.
I discovered a boyfriend cardigan made by Rebecca Taylor which is a very delicately constructed sweater made from lacy crocheted silk and cashmere. My guess is that pretty much you could only borrow this from your boyfriend if he happened to be a high-fashion gender-bender goth with lovely long black hair and rings on every finger, which I’m not convinced is the image that marketers mean to be conjuring when they make reference to this boyfriend from whom you can pretend you’re borrowing clothes.
Other labels also have this supremely feminine take on the boyfriend cardigan. Saks Fifth Avenue has the Iisli Merino Boyfriend Cardigan, which they advertise by saying, “borrow his style in lightweight Italian merino wool with oversized patch pockets.” The sweater comes with princess seams in the back. Is it really conceivable that Iisli would be whisking ladies down the winding Italian country roads on his moped with his artful cigarette pressed between severe lips in princess seams? Maybe. Hey, I’m down for it, I love a man in princess seams. But again, I’m pretty sure it’s just the idea of the steady, protective, possibly rich, kind, masculinely-fashionable boyfriend that marketers are attaching to something that really is the same old women’s cardigan they sold last year. So the question is: why do women want to buy this imaginary guy?