Subway shirts: New trend gains momentum on TikTok as thousands share the 'sad reality' of being a woman

Screenshots of three female content creators from their 'subway shirt' TikToks
The technique is gaining traction on TikTok as thousands of women share the "sad" but "necessary" measures they have to take to feel safe. Photo credit: TikTok

There's a new trend gaining traction on TikTok, but unlike 'mermaidcore' or 'Barbiecore', this trend is a little more rooted in the realities of life as a real woman - and the measures that still have to be taken in order to feel safe. 

The 'subway shirts' phenomenon, which originated in New York City, sees women taking an additional garment - whether it be a shirt, jacket or pullover - to wear over their outfits in a bid to prevent unwanted male attention on public transport.

The movement is growing in popularity on the likes of TikTok, with female content creators sharing how adding a simple layer over their outfit can help prevent harassment or unwelcome advances in public spaces, but particularly on New York's underground transit system.

The trend is particularly poignant during the warmer months, when women typically want to wear lighter, weather-appropriate outfits that will likely show more skin.  

Speaking to the New York Post, 22-year-old New York-based social media manager Grace Masingale claimed she has been harassed on the subway multiple times by men, with even her protective layers drawing unwanted comments about "what's underneath". 

"As we come out of winter, people act like they've never seen a woman before," Masingale told the outlet. 

She claimed a man had once commented on the "perkiness" of her breasts, and on another occasion was followed out of 23rd Street station by a fellow passenger. 

To ward off any harassment, Masingale said she now always has a 'subway shirt' in her bag, particularly during the warmer months, that she can wear over her summer outfits on public transport. 

Another young woman, a model named Kitty Lever, told the outlet she "hates" catching public transport in the warmer weather as she knows showing skin is "always going to draw eyes".

"I have to take public transport because I wouldn't be able to just afford an Uber every time I wanted to leave my apartment," she told the publication. "So I think it's definitely necessary to protect yourself in any way."

In a video shared to her almost 560,000 followers on TikTok earlier this month, content creator and former fashion student Madison Wild shared how she avoids "getting catcalled" in New York City.

"So unfortunately, part of being a girl in NYC is that you have to have an outfit over your outfit or under your outfit," she said, noting that if she is wearing a sheer or see-through garment, she'll wear an extra layer underneath it while walking or taking public transport and take it off when she arrives at her destination.

"I would not be caught dead on the f**king subway in this, because I would be afraid that someone is going to take me and hurt me," Wild continues, showing off her sheer lace skirt. 

"A lot of the time I'll put a big T-shirt over something like this, or I put shorts under - and then I just put them in my bag after. And then I'll also probably do a little jacket... I usually like to do an oversized jacket or T-shirt that I can put in my bag.

"I still feel like, a little nervy. Men are just scary, so stay safe. Keep pepper spray or something," she added.

Another woman's video on the topic was captioned, "It's subway shirt season, stay safe ladies", while New York-based content creator @fionaylin wrote on her clip: "Now that it's finally getting warmer in New York, this is your reminder to always wear a subway shirt/jacket over your cute outfit to protect yourself."

"It's 85 degrees in NYC so ladies, don't forget to bring your subway shirt! Otherwise known as an outfit dampener, it's an oversized shirt we wear over our cute outfits so strange men don't bother [us] on the train," @ideal.grace said in a clip last month, which has since amassed over 185,000 likes and 2.6 million views.

The proliferation of videos sharing the "subway shirt" technique has prompted anger on social media, with many commenting on the "sad reality" of being a woman, especially in big cities where public transport is the primary form of travel. Others have shared the uncomfortable, or even terrifying experiences they've faced after forgetting to wear a 'subway shirt'. 

"Forgot to button my subway shirt for the first time this week and a man videoed me while I wasn't looking," one shared.

"I forgot my subway shirt on Monday and I almost had a panic attack," a second shared, with a third commenting: "Can't leave the house w/o my giant trench [coat]."

"For me it feels like the opposite of empowering... makes me feel like it's my fault if something happens to me [if] I did not wear a 'subway shirt'," one weighed in.

Others have said the same tactic is used on the tube in London to help ward off unwelcome stares or advances. 

"We could literally be wearing trash bags and still get cat called... sad," one woman commented on Wild's video, with another adding: "Got catcalled in a huge oversized hoodie and pants. They see female, they jump, regardless of what you're wearing."

"It's very sad we have to do this as women," said another.