In a TikTok with almost 2 million likes, user @plumsoju laments to the camera, “You say you want boys in a maid outfit. Why am I still single? Where’s my alt girlfriend? What else do you guys want?”
Dressed in cat ears and a French maid dress, he has racked up thousands of comments from young women begging him to let them be the alt girlfriend of his dreams. When scrolling through similar videos, typically tagged with #maidoutfit and #femboyfriday, a similar pattern of men posting maid outfit thirst traps and being hailed as the key to defeating toxic masculinity, once and for all, appears. Sure, there are a few stray homophobic comments questioning if men should wear dresses at all, but maid outfit TikTok is fiercely obsessed with the look, making it a popular Gen-Z niche. But are these costumes, worshipped by TikTok feminist alt girls, really all that subversive?
Maid outfits are nothing new in the recent history of Gen Z’s ideal masculine appearance. One might begin with the e-boy, with his black nail polish and Thrasher beanie, then move to the soft boy, with a middle part and oversized sweater, and later shift to the femboy, donning a skirt and one dangly earring. It’s important to note the gray area between these categories; the e-boy and soft boy and femboy are all quite similar, occupying a specific internet niche one might call “Sensual Gender-Disrupting Skateboarder.” Maid outfits are, in some sense, the natural next step in this progression, as we push the boundaries of traditional masculinity a little bit further and further.
But just as soft boys can quickly become the male manipulator, so too can men in maid outfits. Asking your followers “Where’s my alt girlfriend?” is, after all, simply a complaint that your costume isn’t working like you thought it would. Maybe rather than putting on a maid outfit just to attract girls, men should be putting on a maid outfit because it makes them feel hot, or they just want to wear something cute. Even though the subversion of gender norms in sex is important, guys wearing maid dresses shouldn’t be lauded as revolutionary. Toxic masculinity and the manipulative soft-boy trope are still built on the idea of power and attraction, and guys wearing maid dresses is, at least in this moment, just another way for them to simply be hot and gain female attention. Men being in a submissive position or outfit is great, but we shouldn’t glorify men in “feminine” roles—that just reaffirms the feminine versus masculine sexual dichotomy to begin with. Thirst traps aren’t revolutionary, even if men are the ones pouting in them.
When TikTok users comment things like “the power men would hold if they just wore maid outfits” and “I just know his dick is big” on these kinds of videos, users are allowing the cycle of praising men for straying from the heteronormative standard of appearance to continue. In reality, however, these men often seem to be performing femininity for clout and flirty comments. Men should be wearing dresses in 2020, but we should be simply making space for them to be comfortable doing so, not assigning values to different appearances.
When Harry Styles posed in a dress on the most recent Vogue cover, millions of young girls swooned. As another hot soft guy, he was praised for his liberation from gender norms and for being a role model for other men. All of this is not to say that their reaction is dangerous or problematic, but rather that the consequences of that reaction extend to the everyday men who now see defying gender norms as just another way to get girls. From being pegged to wearing eyeliner, these kinds of recent developments in what is considered desirable are definitely leaning toward subversiveness, but we have to think about whether men really understand why it’s important. At the end of the day, if men only wear dresses because it’s the most recent trend in Gen-Z male sexuality, then their commitment to defying gender norms will fade as soon as its popularity does.
What men wear during sex or in their everyday life shouldn’t be subject to the binary notion of gender, but it also shouldn’t be restricted to the rigidity of popularity, fashion, and pop culture. Subverting gender norms should never be “in” or “out.” Rather than just flipping which appearances are more or less valued, we need to create a gender neutrality where anyone can wear what they want, and anyone can think they’re hot.
Illustration by Damien Jeon