Grace Masingale (@ideal.grace), a New York City resident working in vintage luxury and fashion, shared a TikTok of a new trend that’s helping subway riders feel more comfortable when getting unwanted attention: Enter the “subway shirt.”
Reports of assault on New York City subways have risen over the past year, and Masingale shared how she tries to protect herself when riding on the subway from “strange men” by wearing a long, oversized button-down shirt over her outfit, despite it being 85 degrees outside.
The TikToker encouraged others to wear what she dubbed a “subway shirt” or “outfit dampener” to protect themselves from men who want to “bother them” on the train. The subway shirt, she explained, is basically an oversized article of clothing that covers an outfit underneath in an effort to prevent “strange men” from staring, making comments or attempting to touch others’ bodies.
Masingale also captioned her video “stay safe out there” and used the hashtag #justcitythings, implying that the idea of a subway shirt is just something female-presenting people have to deal with on public transportation in a big city like New York.
Comments on Masingale’s video varied. Some commenters agreed with Masingale about the necessity of covering up for protection on the subway.
“Perhaps better known as ‘Subway Cardigan’ Monday through Friday” wrote @danillemjoyce, while others vehemently disagreed that an outfit does anything to deter someone bent on disrespect.
“No matter how much I try to look like a gremlin, at least one man will be tempted to bark at me,” wrote @tiffaania.
“I stopped trying when I was catcalled in 2XL sweatpants, CROCS, and a 2X t-shirt (I’m a size medium,” described @thedommom. Her comment alone received 115 likes.
Madison Wild (@madisonxwild), a fellow New York City influencer who works in fashion and modeling, also shared how she covers whatever outfit she is actually wearing with another outfit.
“So, unfortunately, part of being a gowrl in NYC is that you have to have an outfit over your outfit or under your outfit,” Wild described in her own video. “This is the outfit I’m wearing to the event. Super cute, but I would not be caught dead on the f****** subway in this, because I will be afraid that someone is going to take me and hurt me.”
Wild and Masingale are both part of a larger TikTok trend of people who have shared videos of their own subway shirts, which they wear as a tactic to stay protected from predatory people.
For instance, Rae Hersey (@ray.hersey), also a New York-based influencer, posted a TikTok that showed her taking off her “subway shirt” after reaching her destination. “Just know if you see me in a white button down the real fit is underneath,” Hersey captioned her video.
In 2018, a report by the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation found that female-presenting individuals reported “day-to-day experiences of harassment, catcalling and general discomfort” that affected their “sense of safety and self-worth” when using public transportation much of it on transportation systems, affecting their sense of safety and self-worth.
“1 time my ex didn’t believe me abt this n we started arguing abt it at the gas station n as SOON as I took it off an ENTIRE truck of men began hooting and hollering at me like animals in a zoo. He was flabbergasted. Didn’t change him never believing me but i got him that time,” described @cellofane.
Her comment came in response to yet another TikTok influencer, this time from New York-based model Kitty Lever (@kittylever), who wears a “modesty shirt.”
“It’s officially wear your modesty tshirt to the subway station szn,” she wrote on her video.
Lever posed in nonchalant influencer fashion in her video, but the comment section displayed the chilling reality behind protective measures like “subway shirts” and “modesty shirts”: Female-presenting people are afraid, often for their very lives.
“My modesty pepper spray is pink,” added @chaaayyaa.
And @nikkieginger summed up how a lot of people feel about the “subway shirt” trend and what it actually represents: “It’s so exhausting being on guard at all times for just existing in a female body.”
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