The Problem With Your Boyfriend Jeans Is More Insidious Than You Think

By Brittany Ross

I can remember the first time I felt empowered enough to buy a pair of boyfriend jeans. I loved them as soon as I tried them on. After years of struggling with body image and trying to make myself as small as possible, it was refreshing to wear a pair of pants that weren't on a mission to shrink me. Plus, they were as comfortable as sweatpants, while still nice enough to wear in most public places. They quickly became my favorite jeans. The relaxed fit was a welcome reprieve from tailored pants and tights I wore to work during the week, and the denim made me feel subtly badass, like the '90s tomboys I was too self-conscious to emulate in my youth. The more I wore the pants, the more I liked them — and the more I started to question why exactly they had to be called boyfriend jeans, anyway.

Sure, the pants are great. I can't imagine ever giving them up; what else I would even wear for my weekend activity uniform? But in an age of ever-increasing awareness and activism in the name of feminism, we can do better than the term "boyfriend jean."

One of the most fundamental flaws in referring to the denim as "boyfriend jeans" (one that has been discussed before) is that it assumes so much about women — for starters, that we have boyfriends to begin with. Where does that leave gay women, non-binary individuals, or people who — dare I say — don’t feel the need to be linked to a partner at all? But this problematic aspect of boyfriend jeans isn't actually the biggest problem with them, if you ask me. There are far more harmful implications in the name that have been discussed far less.

Photo by Chelsea Ross

By buying into the name of the garment, we’re saying we admire women who wear their guys’ clothes — but would we feel this way if the roles were reversed? I was met with laughter from some male friends when I brought up the idea of "girlfriend jeans," largely because in our society, the notion of men becoming cooler by donning their female partner's garb seems preposterous. While a tailored blazer and trousers on a woman often denotes strength (see: "power suit"), a lacy dress on a male is often viewed with stigma or judgment. As we strive to eliminate double standards for men and women, we should be able to own our baggier, I-don’t-give-a-f*ck garments — without the burden of male association.

By buying into this idea, we’re saying we admire women who wear their guys’ clothes — but would we feel this way if the roles were reversed?

It's likely that women gravitate towards boyfriend jeans for the comfort factor, and while there are men who assert that a bare-faced, sweatpants-wearing woman is at her most sexy, society often counters this notion by spotlighting women in non-formfitting clothes (or, women who are not wearing clothes at all). Even in the past when women have worn more traditionally masculine clothing, the focus has often gone back on men, rather than the woman wearing the item. Take the time Sharon Stone turned heads in a billowy, white Gap button-down at the Oscars. As evidenced by a story in The Telegraph, the praise she received was overwhelmingly due to the fact that she was wearing her husband's shirt: "...Sharon Stone took a white Gap shirt (cooler still, it belonged to her husband, Phil Bronstein), teamed it with a Vera Wang skirt – and wore it down the red carpet."

Kevin.Mazur/INACTIVE/WireImage/Getty Images

This same idea is reflective of another double-standard when it comes to boyfriend jeans — the idea that women aren't or shouldn't be larger than men. The whole premise behind the jeans is that they are casually sexy due to the aforementioned idea of borrowing a male partner’s clothes. That said, it's hard to ignore the fact that they are the roomiest style of denim designed for women. Calling the loosest jeans on the market "boyfriend jeans" implies that women can fit into men’s clothing with room to spare, and therefore are supposed to be the smaller one in a heterosexual relationship. Women already face enormous pressure to strive for unattainable beauty and weight standards embraced by the media and society at large, and the term "boyfriend jeans" is alienating to those who don't exemplify this idea. I’ve dated men whose pants I would be swimming in if I tried to wear them, as well as guys whose jeans I wouldn’t be able to squeeze on past my ankles. As women, we’re encouraged to take up as little space as possible, and we don’t need a seemingly-innocent pair of jeans reinforcing this idea.

So, if we'd rather not call them boyfriend jeans, what should the style be called instead? Amanda Shapiro, editor of Bon Appétit's Healthyish, a digital outlet that embraces bodies of all types, cheekily suggests to Bustle that they be known as "Mind Your Own Damn Business" jeans. Lynn Chen, creator of The Actor's Diet blog and podcast (both of which promote a diet-free lifestyle), and spokesperson for NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association says, "I sometimes call those jeans my 'flip flop jeans' because I only like the way they look with sandals, since I have to roll up the bottoms a million times. Or, my 'at home jeans,' since they’re what I put on when I’m entertaining at home and feel like I need to be a little more formal than sweatpants."

Calling the loosest jeans on the market 'boyfriend jeans' implies that women can fit into men’s clothing with room to spare, and therefore are supposed to be smaller than men.

When it comes down to it, women can be (and often are) bigger, older, and taller than men, none of which should require explanation or apology. We are sexy, desirable, and worthy beyond the context of our male counterparts, and we should feel confident walking out the door in baggy clothes just because they make us feel great. Ingeniously straddling the line between relaxed and composed, boyfriend jeans have the potential to rank among the most liberating pieces in our closets — well, as long as we dump the "boyfriend."