The End of the Going Out Top Was a Victory for Women
Jul 14, 2017
My introduction to the Going Out Top was unwitting and early: at sleepaway camp in my formative years, raging with hormones and a desire to move further along the sexual baseball field in order to keep up with my peers. It was a jaundice-yellow, partially-studded, partially-plastic looking, one-shoulder shirt from Kohl’s. When the object of my desire called my weapon of attraction a “caveman shirt,” I wish I could say that I thought, he has no taste; this is unequivocally sexy. Instead, I thought, but will he still want to shove his tongue down my throat?! I don’t recall ever wearing the top again.
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Such was the plight of the Going Out Top, an aesthetically ambiguous, but often sparkly and bad tan line-inducing top, that more notably symbolized the insatiable, but normal, desire to Get a Dude. It rose to prominence in the early and mid aughts thanks to a strange combination of Girls Who Go Out like Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton, and then-innocent teen stars like a young Lindsay Lohan posing cutely on the red carpet. The tops varied in style — from explicitly sexy to almost sweet — making for a wide range of consumers, but they always loudly declared: I’m here to party! On the outside, it shrieked fun, glamour, and carefreeness — who wouldn’t want to adopt that mentality when they went out for the night? The shirts trickled their way into mass consumer outlets, like Forever 21 and Wet Seal, letting a fantasy of partying like a celebrity become within grasp. For young women entering college or moving out of their parents’ house, it was a way of saying, “I’m independent. Look at what I’m wearing. Also, I can drink now, and watch me do it and pride myself on my hangover!”
But play the game of fashion telephone and the message can easily get lost. While many (but not all) non-famous women might have worn these shirts with hopes of seeming to have a joyous, carefree time, the Going Out Top was in reality, often marked by the exact opposite: by care, worry, by distraction. What could have been a Very Good Night would turn into drunken tears — why did I go home alone!? Inevitably, these emotions are rites of passage; a part of growing up is discovering that dancing is fun when you’re dancing for yourself and your friends, that having a wardrobe reserved for Guys I Don’t Know Yet But Just Might Meet Tonight is a waste of your hard-earned cash. As is wearing hideous apparel (and excessive partying) in your younger days.
You can chalk up the fact that you rarely see a Going Out Top — a classic, pure, early-to-mid-2000s-era, flares-at-the-bottom-but-is-tight-at-the-top, rhinestones-along-the-boobs top — to the inevitable truths of science and the passage of time: fashion evolves, ugly clothes disappear, and the celebrities of that time either faded into the abyss or distanced themselves from their party girl reputations. Wet Seal filed for bankruptcy this year. Nasty Gal did late last year, too, shuttering all its stores in February. But fashion also made a strident shift in tone sometime in the 2010s, to be more about the actual women wearing the apparel than the people gazing upon them. A new era dawned, vocally heralding different bodies, calling out brands like H&M and Victoria’s Secret when they did us wrong and failed to pedal clothes that worked for us, and the advent of brands like Aerie and ModCloth that told women they didn’t need robotically chiseled bodies.
The fall of the original, 2000s-Going Out Top hailed the very truths it belied: that any shirt you wear — to the library, to brunch, to the grocery store — is sexy. That it’s fine to hate the club. That fashion is a celebration of you, not Mike Who Didn’t Text You Back. You can argue the Going Out Top has “evolved” with the women who wore it, but why not just let that nomenclature stay permanently under metaphorical anesthesia and call it something else, rather than conjuring memories of shunting yourself into someone else’s vision of sexiness?
Women have come out the other end, victorious, freed from both the styles of the early 21st century and the oppression of their late teens and early 20s. True sexiness, of course, never goes out style, and there’s nothing wrong with procuring clothes for a night out — but letting go of dressing for someone else is something to truly rejoice about.
So thank the powers of consumer fashion that it’s dead and gone! Sure, some fashion websites recently cried that it’s back and better than ever, but I think that has less to do with the return of the Going Out Top and more to do with the internet’s raging horniness for nostalgia. After all, these newer shirts — crop tops with high waisted pants showing just the tiniest bit of waist, billowy cold-shoulder shirts, off-the-shoulder tops, lace — are, for one, objectively sexier (and can be worn in a multitude of places and are significantly more practical!). They project whimsy, personality, confidence, and not the funneled message of wear this bizarrely ill-fitting shirt to get laid. They’re not as explicit or blatantly beckoning for attention, and if they are, they possess a so what? quality to them. So what if you think velvet makes me look like a gymnast? So what if you think the jeans I’m pairing them with look boxy? I can imagine the same boy who called my Kohl’s top a caveman shirt perplexed by why I’d find a shirt that doesn’t hug any portion of my skin or only shows off my shoulders infinitely sexy. But it is, and all these newer tops are, for one single reason: they’re worn for the women wearing them, and nobody else.
So don’t call your black crop top or a backless velvet shirt a Going Out Top. Call shirts you wear out just that. A shirt I wear out. A nice dinner shirt. A club top. A hell-yeah-vacation smock. Let your clothes be the very thing the Going Out Top wished to be, but never truly was in earnest: a celebration of wearing clothes for you, going out and legitimately enjoying it, fulfilling the very promise you swore to your friends while you were pre-gaming — that this would be the best night ever, regardless of what anyone says.
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