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What is the "Subway Shirt," the viral phenomenon on TikTok

More and more women report wearing oversized t-shirts and baggy dresses on public transportation to avoid harassment

What is the Subway Shirt, the viral phenomenon on TikTok More and more women report wearing oversized t-shirts and baggy dresses on public transportation to avoid harassment

It is almost summer. It's almost 27 degrees in New York. Claire Wenrick wants to sunbathe on a friend's roof terrace and has opted for a blue tank top and a mini skirt in camouflage colours. But before she sets off, she grabs an extra large white T-shirt on the way, big enough to cover the entire outfit. And that's exactly the "trick" to avoid harassment on public transport that has gone viral on TikTok in recent weeks. Called the Subway Shirt, it consists of a loose-fitting t-shirt, oversized shirt or other loose-fitting dress worn by women over a normal summer outfit that spreads from New York to everywhere as if it were a kind of invisibility cloak that can protect you from cat-calling, unwanted stares and assault when you are moving around the city alone. 

@quesoscorpio stay safe ladiessss #nycsubway Coconut Mall (From "Mario Kart Wii") - Arcade Player

For Wenrick and thousands of other girls who have shared their experiences on the social platform, "it's "a way to protect my safety when walking from A to B"," a trick to avoid "becoming a target" "I learned quickly that I can walk around and do what I want to as long as I'm covered up. Every time I forget my subway shirt, I instantly regret it and think about turning around," affirms Ajana Grove, 19, who moved to New York from Nebraska and uses this style strategy to feel more confident. Other creators tell us that the underground shirt "is "an oversized shirt we wear over cute clothes to keep strange men from harassing you on the train". By taking it off, they show that "the real look is underneath"," stressing that they do not want to be forced to cover up and that it should be safe to wear what you want everywhere. For many, however, this remains a utopia so much so that many do not limit themselves to the T-shirt, but go further by adopting a series of "outfit dampeners," such as swapping boots for sneakers or putting leggings under a see-through skirt before putting on the real outfit once they reach their destination.

@itssophiemilner I didnt realise everyone else did this too

Hiding the short dresses, tops and skirts that people start wearing in warm weather by covering them with baggy, shapeless blouses is not yet another core, but if it were, it would be the most disruptive trend of 2023 with almost 5 million views for the hashtag #SubwayShirt and almost 2 billion for #subwayshirtnyc. Hearing the words of @hanselkai urging her followers to adopt the "subway shirt" saying "PSA: Ladies, now that it's hot out, don't forget to bring your subway/commute overshirt. Stay hot, stay sexy, stay safe from creeps!" is a punch in the gut that forces us to take note of the fact that harassment is a problem women face every day. But it also reminds us how much our lives are still subjected to a patriarchal society where what we wear or do not wear can make the difference between arriving safe and sound at our destination or running the risk of being harassed.

@hanselkai Just girly things! #newyorkcity #subway Smile - Lily Allen

Granted that each of us has the right to do whatever helps us feel safe, whether it is wearing a loose T-shirt or whatever, the risk is that some people will misunderstand the new viral phenomenon of TikTok and use it to corroborate the erroneous (but unfortunately still all too common) idea that it is a certain type of clothing that instigates violence. But it is not the clothing that causes the attacks, it is the attackers. The only wrong is with the person who assaults and harasses. Rape and other forms of aggression are about power, control over someone else, anger and hatred. Not that the person who suffers them is sporting a skirt or a top.  As women, we are so accustomed to unwanted stares, booing, and even aggression that we often carry it as if it were our burden, a guilt from which we must protect ourselves by covering ourselves, by not walking down dark streets, by not going home alone, by never taking our eyes off our cocktail for fear that someone will adulterate it. Will we ever feel safe enough to abandon these little "self-defense" mechanisms or to wear what we want? We should not be telling women and girls to protect themselves by covering up because the subway shirt is not a trend it is yet another proof, as Eliza Hatch of Cheer Up Luv writes on Instagram, "a grim reminder that we still have to account for our personal safety, we still have to monitor and police our own bodies, and are still denied freedoms to wear whatever we want, even in stiflingly hot city summers."