The other week, I went looking for a normal-looking shirt. In the past, this has not been a difficult task. But things are different now. Almost all new women’s shirts make the wearer look disturbed, and it’s all because sleeves have gone batshit insane.
From cutout shoulders to Bardot tops to Juliet sleeves to batwing tops to ruffles on fucking everything that should not carry ruffles, there is no unflattering silhouette that circa-2017 women’s shirts won’t try.
Bishop sleeves, fuller around the wrist than at the shoulder and gathered into a cuff in such a way that it’s impossible to push up one’s arm and impossible to cuff? Sure, why not. I didn’t have to work or type or eat today.
Trumpet sleeves, which cannot be pushed up the arm nor folded out of the way, are worse. They are a great way to collect evidence and condiments.
How about off-shoulder tops that sit so low across the wearer’s arms that they restrict a person’s movement? It’s fine if your arms are like Barbie’s, bent perpetually at 90-degree angles and there’s no real point in reaching for something above the level of one’s neck. The other day, I saw a fluttery cropped version of an off-shoulder top, so, theoretically if a woman wearing one were to suddenly raise her arms, the elastic-ringed top of her shirt would shoot up over her shoulders exposing either her breasts or the magical bra that somehow fits beneath the monstrosity. Tops gone wild!
I’ve read women’s magazines for long enough to get a sense of when everybody is just pretending to ignore how ugly a trend is. It’s in a similar vein to the feeling I get when I tepidly agree to hang out with somebody with whom I have no interest in hanging out.
We should hang out. Butterfly clips look good. Wear tights underneath shorts. Dresses definitely go over jeans. Sure. No argument from me.
Before middle school basketball games, my teammates and I used to cover our eyelids and collarbones with glitter gel, which made us look like we’d just escaped from an orphanage run by showgirls. But the inertia of the trend’s ubiquity, combined with our delicate desire to fit in socially, made our adopting it inevitable. We didn’t have the strength to say no to glitter gel. It was silly and we all kind of knew it, but we could live with it.
In high school, teen magazines told us that we should be wearing tube tops that were made of sweater material, and matching cardigans of the same sweater material over the tube tops. Wear that to a party, the magazines said. We did that, too. Very few people with natural breasts look good in a tube top, but we did it anyway. Part of the experience of being an American woman is the shared subjugation of your better judgement in the face of fashion.
Shortly after college, suddenly we were cinching our waists with belts as fat as deflated fire hoses. I had a red patent leather one I’d wear over a black sweater dress, a look that gave me the appearance of a person who could, at any time, be called on to defend her wrestling championship.
None of those trends were so offensive that they were impossible to buy. Not so now. There’s no claiming that sleeves voluminous enough to touch the person next to you on a plane or that shirts that squash breasts and dig into arms should be worn by anybody, ever. Fashion has gone beyond plausible deniability.
This time, women have caught onto what is happening. I’ve heard it tsked in stores, complained about over group texts, shared and mocked over social media. Asos, Shopbop, Zara, and Net-a-Porter are horror shows right now, and it seems impossible to stop.
Is this punishment for our refusal to abandon skinny jeans in favor of wide-legged pants a few years back? Or perhaps our outright rejection of the harem pant, the one-shoulder party top?
“I think fashion has its cycles of variations on a theme or focus area: pant leg widths, jewelry heft, sleeve ornamentation,” Silvia Killingsworth, editor in chief of The Hairpin, tells The Daily Beast. “We’re in the midst of a sleeve phase and the direction sleeves are going currently is probably best described as ‘every which way.’”
Writing at The Hairpin, Rebecca Christopher theorizes that women’s fashion reflects its sociopolitical context. The world has gone crazy, so, of course, so have sleeves. “I have recently had and overheard multiple conversations about sleeves, conversations not had during the Obama administration,” Christopher writes. “It’s a moment, one which coincides with a participatory form of civil unrest from which primordial soup have emerged a nonzero number of soul-crushing takes about how protesting is the new brunch.”
Christopher further points out that the last time sleeves went this nuts were the 1830s, a time when Andrew Jackson was in the White House and revolutions and uprisings were occurring around the world. Coincidentally, Andrew Jackson is a hero of Steve Bannon, and not just because Steve Bannon looks like how Andrew Jackson would look after floating for six days in a bog.
The only problem with Christopher’s compelling theory is that sleeves were going to hell in a handbasket long before Trump was elected; Trump couldn’t possibly have ushered this in on his own and nobody predicted during spring/summer 2017 fashion week that Trump would win. Cold shoulder tops started poking up a few years ago, and last summer, stores were trying to feed us Bardot and off-shoulder. Perhaps the chaos of fashion should have been a warning to us. Things have taken a turn this year, but there had been stirrings that this was coming for quite some time. Maybe Hillary Clinton should have spent more time in Forever 21.
Trump may not be responsible for the sleeve troubles, but his family has been complicit. Ivanka has been photographed in trumpet sleeves, in bell sleeves, in sleeves that for some reason ended in enormous bows (the only thing more offensive than those sleeves is the fact that those sleeves were sitting in for the president at the G20). Melania Trump wore belled sleeves during her speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention. History will not remember either woman well.
There are certainly more worthy things at which to direct one’s anger than a long, snakelike ruffle running down the back side of a sleeve like a flimsy spine, or tube of fabric that sits at the least convenient segment of a woman’s forearm, or a cap sleeve. How lucky we’d be if the worst thing happening right now were the loopy nightmare that is women’s fashion.
But in a world of chaos, small, everyday comforts often provide solace. And sometimes, instead of thinking of the state of the world for a few minutes, a lady just wants a normal goddamn shirt.