As long as humans have existed on this planet, bodily curvature has been historically synonymous with the feminine being. Curves signified fertility and thus were highly desired by men, since the meaning of life was quite literally to procreate. As clothing gained significance in human societies, female curvature did the same. Womenswear was constructed to alter the body in order to fit the male-dictated ideal of femininity (which has hardly changed). Tiny waists and big hips were exaggerated to painful extremes with equipment like corsets, stomachers, petticoats, and hoop skirts, to name a few. These garments, nay, contraptions, surpassed plain physical discomfort and became legitimately detrimental to women’s health.
Once the 20th century rolled around, there was a decrease in such complex forms of altering one’s shape, but a woman’s best accessory still remained her body. Corsetry continued to oscillate as a trend throughout the decades, and belted or cinched silhouettes became dominant as a means to accentuate the figure as well as please the male imagination, but at least women could actually breathe! Even when the shift dress silhouette was popularized, with help from Coco Chanel in the 20s and then Lilly Pulitzer in the 60s, shorter hemlines compensated for the looser fit, designed to feed male fantasies with a whole lotta leg.
Sportswear became popular in the 80s, introducing more comfortable feminine attire. Off the shoulder sweatshirts and leggings allowed for form fitting style without sacrificing movement. Kathryn Hennessy noted this milestone, saying: “Women’s bodies were now shaping the clothes, rather than the clothes shaping the bodies” (Fashion: The Ultimate Book of Fashion and Style p.388). Regardless of this progress, the display of the female body remained crucial to style and style remained crucial to the womanly duties of pleasing men.
Enter: 90’s hip hop culture. Female artists, rappers, and fly girls pioneered the saggy denim oversized look, and did so without it being considered masculinizing. Artists like Lauryn Hill and the women of TLC stayed flexing in baggy fits without their womanhood being challenged. The 90’s in general featured looser-fitting silhouettes in popular everyday womenswear. Mom jeans, oversized sweaters and windbreakers make up a pretty solid 90’s uniform.
Sadly enough for me and the rest of Gen Z, those trends faded away for a while, transitioning into the age of jeggings, infinity scarves and the mustache trend that feels like a fever dream. Mini skirts, low-rise jeans, camis, and cropped tops popularized form-fitting trends for women in the 21st century.
Regardless of the unfortunate time period that was jeggings and images of facial hair on clothing, trends from decades past have been slowly resurfacing in the last 5-10 years, including (drumroll) baggy womenswear. Contemporary fashion trends are eclectically retrospective. People are wearing popular styles from various time periods and even creating fusions. Baggy clothing is at the top of the list. Countless influencers, celebrities, and models (Bella Hadid, Billie Eilish, Zendaya, etc etc etc) have pushed and proven the idea that a bad bitch in baggy clothes is still a bad bitch.
Luxury fashion brands have featured loose fitting womenswear for some years now, but the recent release of various Spring 2021 Ready to Wear collections are flooded with evidence that high end designers are paying attention to the moment. Fashion month trends across the boards showcase baggy garments and full looks–especially super-oversized button-down shirts and baggy jeans. (Balenciaga, Vaquera, Victoria Beckham, Celine, Christian Dior, etc.)
The normalization of baggy clothing on feminine bodies is majorly credited (in my humble opinion) to the rise of the body positivity movement. The acceptance and loving of all shapes, colors, gender expressions, and sexualities is allowing people to be confident in their own skin, and therefore increasing their comfort in expressing themselves creatively through personal style.
For centuries, society told women that the female form is the number one style essential, insisting that satisfying the male gaze is crucial in the validation of one’s womanhood. In this day and age, clothing is a creative choice and one’s womanhood is valid regardless of dress. Society has only just begun to realize that all people are still people, worthy of respect and freedom, even if they aren’t white straight cis men. And as a result, people are allowing themselves to express their individuality without having to answer to the societal standards put in place by the very same. It means so much more than comfortability or modesty. The normalization of baggy womenswear is a direct product of the destruction of the patriarchy and has helped to redefine the intersection of fashion and femininity.