Summer is just around the corner, which means New Yorkers are baring arms — and legs, shoulders and abs. But many young women are also packing a defense for deterring creepy dudes: the subway shirt. Alternatively known as a modesty shirt or outfit dampener, it’s a baggy, longer layer that can be thrown over more fitted or revealing clothes to avoid harassment underground.
“As we come out of winter, people act like they’ve never seen a woman before,” Grace Masingale told The Post.
The 22-year-old social media manager from the Upper East Side has had her fair share of harassment by men on the train, who have said everything from “I would like to see what’s underneath that” to “Your breasts are so perky.” Once, she was even followed out of the 23rd Street station on the 1 line.
So now she dons a light sweater over her clothes when she leaves the house, in the hopes of drawing less attention to herself, and takes it off at her destination.
Masingale said she almost always keeps a subway shirt stashed in her purse.
The subway shirt phenomenon is even going viral on TikTok, with young women in NYC showing off their form-concealing flannels, long T-shirts and baggy oxfords.
“I hate getting on the subway and drawing attention to myself, and I know that skin is always going to draw eyes,” Kitty Lever, a 24-year-old model from Hamilton Heights, told The Post.
“I have to take public transport because I wouldn’t be able to just afford an Uber every time I wanted to leave my apartment. So I think it’s definitely necessary to protect yourself in any way.”
And the shirt isn’t just about trying to avoid leering eyes and objectifying comments.
Subway crime has been on the rise in recent years, with subterranean horror stories against women leaving female riders feeling vulnerable.
Rae Hersey, 27, has lived in the city for nine years but only recently started carrying a subway shirt to cover up while underground
“Coming out of COVID lockdowns, I started to feel significantly less safe in the city,” said the West Village-based content creator, who told The Post that someone on the 1 train pulled a knife on her and her boyfriend in a mid-day attempted robbery last month.
Though the pair managed to get away before things went south, the encounter was a reminder for Hersey of her vulnerability in the subway.
As a result, she’s not riding the train as often right now.
But when she does, her oversized white button-down at least helps her feel less visible.
“Wearing a shirt on top doesn’t necessarily stop anything from happening, but it makes me feel more comfortable,” Hersey said.
And just trying to blend into the crowd is a big part of the baggy-shirt appeal.
Nyrus Abdulle, 23, moved to the city from Los Angeles a year ago and immediately began to “feel uncomfortable being a woman alone in the subway.”
“I’ve heard a lot of horror stories, so it was already an anxiety I had when I moved to New York,” she said. “I just knew when I got here that I shouldn’t look risqué … in the subway.”
So every time she goes out and shows skin — whether she’s wearing a mini skirt, crop top or tight jeans — Abdulle makes sure to throw on a flannel shirt snagged from her father’s closet.
“I noticed that I just don’t really get that unwanted attention anymore when I have my dad’s big flannel on,” the Brooklyn resident told The Post.
That said, the women agree it sucks that they can’t wear whatever they want without feeling fearful or objectified.
“I don’t think that any woman in the city should be harassed, no matter what they are wearing on the train,” Masingale said. “But for me personally, it helps make me feel more comfortable in a situation that could potentially be dangerous.”Having lived her whole life on the Upper East Side, the 32-year-old podcaster has been flashed on the subway, confronted by a masturbating man on a train car and followed out of stations.