TikTok is debating whether dating women gives men fashion glow-ups

Hundreds of couples on TikTok are showing off what they describe as the “girlfriend effect” — how men seem to upgrade their fashion sense under the influence of their girlfriends.

But some online are calling out the phenomenon, saying it’s the latest example of people being pushed toward the same “trendy” minimalist aesthetic they feel pressured to tout on their social media pages.

The so-called effect has emerged as the antithesis to a phenomenon facetiously referred to as “boyfriend air,” wherein a woman begins dating a man and glows “down” instead of up. When a creator pointed out that the opposite happens for men, couples began responding with evidence of its occurring in their own relationships. 

Videos using the hashtag #girlfriendeffect have amassed more than 11 million views on TikTok in the last seven days. 

The trend began to gain traction this month when content creator Gabe Escobar, 21, racked up 3.5 million likes for sharing a series of photos depicting how his style has gradually evolved since he started dating his girlfriend more than a year ago. 

“As a boy, I’ve never really had people giving me advice on what to wear,” Escobar said in a phone interview. “Every day, I see a lot of TikToks about girl fashion advice or ‘get ready with me’ or shopping hauls, but I see far fewer with guys’ fashion, and I just genuinely had no idea what to wear.”

Now that he’s in his first serious relationship, he said, Escobar feels like he has somebody who cares enough to give honest feedback and suggestions about his fashion sense. His girlfriend made him a Pinterest board of outfit ideas and, at his request, sent him a list of fashion staples — including jeans, khakis, polo shirts, rugby shirts and sweatshirts — to take to Rome for his semester abroad.

His previous day-to-day attire usually involved wearing a cropped jersey and trousers held by a leather belt, paired with a few necklaces and a blue-gray satchel. These days, he wears loose button-ups, and he has grown out his hair, previously buzzed on the sides, to adopt a middle part.

In comments on videos within the genre, some viewers applaud men’s stylistic changes and the work their girlfriends must have put in. 

But there are also many critics of the trend, who suggest that such men are suppressing their individual styles into one “Instagrammable” look. Some online have also pointed out in comments that pieces considered unfashionable now, like skinny jeans, were probably stylish years ago when many of the couples first met.

Escobar said that while he is happy with his “glow-up,” he has noticed the homogeneity that comes with the trend.

“I think, in a lot of the examples, you can sort of see the outfits become relatively the same across the board,” he said. “I hope that’s not what I look like. Maybe I ought to look at myself first before I pass any judgments.”

Wildlin Pierrevil, a content creator who largely shares cultural commentary on TikTok, posted a video critiquing the uniformity of many men’s “after” outfits compared to their starting outfits, which he said usually exhibited more of their individuality and included some styles that he actually really liked.

Pierrevil said he recalls seeing a video of a man chronicling his outfits before and after having met his girlfriend, while his girlfriend harshly criticized his former outfits off-screen. As he scrolled, he said, he felt some of the videos were “just kind of mean.”

There’s a difference, he said, between helping people develop their tastes and execute their own styles and asking them to abandon their personal styles in favor of their partners’.

“By forfeiting style, you can kind of present as someone who vaguely knows how to dress themselves,” he said. “The more difficult thing is to meet someone where they’re at in terms of their identity expression and try to decode what it is they’re trying to say with their fashion in order to help them better articulate it.”

For Escobar and others posting about their new looks, changing their looks wasn’t about meeting a certain aesthetic. It was about finding what they feel best in.

“I never had a style that I had to abandon because my girlfriend was showing me new clothes,” Escobar said. “I just didn’t have a style. And now I do.”

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