Joss Whedon, Men, and the Hugest Shirts In The World
First, a bit of housekeeping – a number of you responded to yesterday’s post about becoming estranged from my family of origin, and I’m deeply moved and grateful for those messages. I hope you’ll understand that I’m not able to reply to them all individually, but it means more than I can say.
Which brings us to the issue at hand; namely, focusing on little details about twenty-year-old television shows, which is what’s getting me through this week. I’ve been going through old episodes of Angel lately, and one of the things I’ve been most struck by is the absolutely massive scale of male shirting. “Draped in fabric” doesn’t quite seem to cover it somehow. I was around in the late 90s/early aughts — I remember the “big shirts for boys, crop tops for girls” era — but I kept thinking to myself, “Surely it can’t have been this bad.” Here’s Gunn wearing a polo shirt where the sleeves break past the elbow:
It is a shirt designed for Shaq to wear! Look at how close the folding-creases are on the torso — it’s been folded in half at least six times just to get it small enough to fit in a drawer.
Here’s Xander in a pair of pajamas so voluminous they skip right past being modest and circle back around to being obscene. His clothes are so baggy as to become skimpy; at every moment he is more on the verge of popping out of his top than Anya is, in her sensible, close-fitting half-cami and high-waisted skirt combo (you can intuit, rather than see, that she has chosen to wear bike shorts under her skirt).
Xander’s jammies are closer to a judge’s robes, or one of those acrylic Halloween zoot suits that you pay for by the yard. There’s a scene — I wish I could find it for you, I think it’s from the episode where Wesley has to kill his cyborg father — where Wesley points menacingly at someone, but his shirt-sleeves are so inhumanly capacious that it’s totally impossible to pay attention to what he’s saying. All you can do is stare at the black hole of fabric (vaginal imagery? Is Wesley a trans man?) gaping around his elbow, and wonder who sent him onto set looking like that.
Is it homophobic? Is it a late ‘90s homophobia thing, or an early-aughts backlash against the rise of the supposed metrosexual? I’m broadly familiar with the hip-hop-influenced origins of oversized jeans and jackets in the ‘90s, but by the time we get to Angel, we’re talking about mostly-white occult librarians in just tremendous amounts of wool sweaters.
Look at what is happening here! Gunn is wearing a vaguely human-sized shirt — the tie’s a little big for my tastes, but it’s fine — Fred has been sewn into a sexy nurse costume with, I want to say, slouchy beige kitten-heel boot-clogs? Again, fine — but here’s Wesley in his Frankenstein clothes, “No time to press either but don’t worry, they’re both linen, so no one will notice,” swimming around in his Great Plains-sized pants and his Tom Hanks from Big shirt.
Once the outrage subsides, there’s something oddly stirring-yet-soothing about the hulking male clothing of Angel and Buffy, like watching the last of the charismatic megafauna roll over the bluffs of a vast continent. Shirts so huge, draped so voluminously, that they can carry any burden, absorb any blow, encase any man and hide his body from the world; Joss Whedon protects what the Greeks showcased. This is the ideal make body, etc — you may not like it but —
I thought I read it suggested somewhere that with Xander etc., large shirts help preserve the illusion of teenagerhood by obscuring their fully-grown torsos? But that doesn't explain the perpetuation on Angel.