build-a-boyfriend: suppressing personal style for the sake of an instagram-able relationship

While doom-scrolling in pajamas, I happened upon a TikTok discussing “Girlfriend Air” (@NotWildin – Girlfriend Air Gone Wrong). Now, if you, unlike me, touch grass on a regular basis, you might think Girlfriend Air is pheromones and Glossier’s You. You’d be wrong. Girlfriend Air is a counteract to the initial “Boyfriend Air,” which refers to the phenomenon of quickly becoming musty and dusty in your boyfriend’s presence. Women would share the Before & Afters of spending time with their boyfriends: walking in sleek and beautifully manicured, yet leaving looking worse for wear. Don’t ask me why this happens, confront the internet with your inquiries. 

Girlfriend Air is almost the opposite. Men are entering relationships lacking visual direction and wearing, according to their girlfriends, “unacceptable” outfits and, according to their girlfriends, undergoing a glow-up. Now, helping your boyfriend dress more tastefully is one thing, but posting a TikTok about how undesirable you found your boyfriend before you thoroughly overhauled his wardrobe is… weirdo behavior, to say the least. But I’m not here to say: “Men, get behind me!” That’s not what this is. I am simply a defender of personal style, which is… uhh… PERSONAL, believe it or not, and cannot be entirely curated by anyone else, no matter how well they may know you. 

In general, most backlash I’ve received regarding this topic is that men don’t care about fashion and, therefore, women should be allowed to take control of that aspect of their lives. Which is still weird as fuck, but let’s suppose that massive generalization is true. Why is that? 

Well, you see, marketing teams love money. And marketing teams know that society expects women to care more about their appearance, so targeting trends to them proves to be more fruitful for the financial department. Don’t forget: it’s always about racking in the cash. Always comes back to late stage capitalism. Men aren’t necessarily less stylish; it’s just not considered a requirement to be attractive, as it often is for women. So why bother? Why even consider fashion at all? 

I’ve come to the realization that these “unfashionable” men often still hold the desire to be stylish, but they just don’t even know where to begin. Unlike the female experience, being presentable isn’t a talent they’ve been honing since puberty. And this is where Girlfriend Air comes in. 

Most often, Girlfriend Air is really just a woman helping her boyfriend be more confident in his appearance and gathering the gusto to be more adventurous with fashion. But it has gradually transitioned to publicly humiliating your boyfriend online: “Look how ugly he was before I got to him.” (Like seriously, some of these women claim to be almost unable to look at the Before pictures). Therein lies the issue. Why are you dating a man you feel you had to workshop?

While personal style is personal, some guidance can definitely be helpful to those who haven’t given it much thought. However, guidance is the key word here, not control. Taking your boyfriend on a shopping spree to Zara and dressing him head-to-toe in trends is not helping him be more stylish; it’s carbon copying from the catalogue. What is he learning about his personal style? That it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t complement that of his girlfriend’s? What a blow to confidence. Oftentimes, you can see this result in the Before & Afters. Before: smiling, perhaps a tad lost puppy, but nonetheless cheerful disposition. After: brooding and looks popped out of her Pinterest board. And truthfully, I think one reason these women do this is to enhance their social media feeds. They’re Instagram-ifying their boyfriends, essentially creating an accessory to their online persona. Since Girlfriend Air is supposed to be a positive effect, and I believe it is, I vow to henceforth refer to this phenomenon as “Boyfriend Insta-fication”. Alternatively, it could be “Boyfriend Style Suppressant”. The “Sad Beige Boyfriend”. I could keep going. 

My point is, instead of respecting their boyfriend’s inkling of personal style or total lack of interest in fashion altogether, these women are Build-A-Boyfriend-ing! And these men, instead of recognizing their individual style is worthy of consideration, simply succumb to make their girlfriends happy, especially if they feel understandably overwhelmed with forming a cohesive and stylish wardrobe. The personal style journey can be difficult, specifically at the beginning. It can feel like there are so many avenues to travel down, and which one is for you? I can guarantee having your partner whispering in your ear doesn’t help. 

Now, I’m no life guru. I’m but a sometimes-simple-minded little fashionista. I’m not here to discuss relationship dynamics and control tactics. I’m merely bringing to light a situation I’ve witnessed and how it applies to the subject of personal style. I believe that while this is much more complicated than just dressing your Ken doll, men’s individual style is being buried in these predicaments. Yes; sometimes, these Before & Afters reflect the trends five years ago vs. now. Other times, it is basketball shorts vs. NYFW. But sometimes, they show a man on the brink of knowing what he likes vs. a man who now knows what his girlfriend likes. Or what Instagram “likes”. Literally. 

As self-appointed Personal Style Police, I’m calling you ladies out: sure, encourage your man to embark on his fashion journey, but don’t deck him out in current trends to enrich your Clout Card. If you really want an accessory to hang on your arm and go with your outfit, buy a purse like the rest of us. Not a boyfriend. 

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