I Can't. Don't Hate Me.

It’s Time To Retire The Button-Down After Sex Trope

Why is this still a thing?

It’s Moira Rose’s favorite time of year, baby! Awards Season is in full swing, with the entertainment industry’s super bowl right around the corner: The Oscars. As a professional spectator, I usually spend the month leading up to the Academy’s big night attempting to marathon every film nominated for Best Picture, so I can be obnoxiously opinionated the night of. Speaking as a completely objective third part observer with absolutely no personal interest in the matter, my leading contender to take home the trophy is Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman.

I believe PYW should be required-watching for all sexually active men. But there was one scene that caught me off-guard more than any other in the 114-minute cinematic experience. No, I’m not talking about Alison Brie’s groundbreaking face acting or Connie Britton’s first attempt at playing an unlikeable character.

I am, of course, referencing the scene in which our protagonist is pictured post-coitus, draped in a men’s button-down shirt. Folks, when I say I cringed the second that cotton blend flashed its way across my screen. I had assumed we’d put that trope to bed in the 90s; I, myself, mainly associate its imagery with Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. But upon further research, I was shocked to discover that, according to media historian and professor Moya Luckett of the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University, this trope was created in the 50s and rooted in feminism: Dressing up in masculine clothing appealed to the female gaze because women wanted to be seen as socially independent.

In fact, you probably didn’t even realize how often you’ve been consuming button-down-after-sex propaganda either —especially in pop culture from the early aughts — so let’s quickly take a walk down memory lane and revisit some of my least favorite offenders, from Mr. & Mrs. Smith’s bloody button-down look to Riverdale’s garage sex catastrophe.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)

Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Shortly after beating each other into bloody pulps turns then engaging in very painful, aggressive sex, Angelina Jolie’s character in Mr. & Mrs. Smith slips into Brad Pitt’s white dress shirt, bloodstains et al. Besides the fact that reaching for a shirt soaked in bodily fluids is probably more uncomfortable than just putting back on your clothes (Isn’t it still a little moist? Come on now), the power dynamics in this scene are totally skewed. While it may have been a way to show independence nearly 70 years ago, Jolie donning Pitt’s basics after their fight feels like a sign of submission — she becomes one with the shirt, a possession of his. IMHO, the trope could have died right here.

Gossip Girl (2009)

Of course, the horniest couple in all of Gossip Girl history (I said what I said) would choose to follow up an athletic game of kitchen sex by lounging on the floor in an oversized men’s button down and knee-socks. While Blake Lively looks amazing in anything and everything she wears, this aesthetic decision makes no sense on multiple levels. Why go for a shirt he was never even wearing in the first place? Wouldn't she be more comfortable in, say, a T-shirt, like the one he’s wearing? Is he annoyed at her for creasing a well-ironed dress shirt for no reason? Isn’t it getting dirty on the kitchen floor? Am I overthinking all of this? Probably, but that’s why the trend irks me. In practice, it just feels impractical.

Riverdale (2017)

In this Totally Realistic scene from the CW’s Riverdale, Veronica Lodge dances around in Archie’s garage, clad in an unreasonably small button-down and underwear, as he plays guitar in just his boxers, and Jughead’s voiceover explains to the audience that they’ve just done the deed. Yes, in a show chockfull of flying babies, mystical gang wares, and multiple serial killers, this scene might be the most unbelievable. Of all the button-down after sex scenes, this somehow feels the most misogynistic. I mean, it literally feeds the male gaze — she’s dancing for him! Plus, if she was going to go for this sort of thing, why wouldn’t she grab his Letterman Jacket? I’ve definitely never seen Archie in a button-down before. Make it make sense.

The Vampire Diaries (2009)

In my final example for the class, Elena sleeps with Stefan for the first time, then goes snooping around his room. While I give this scene from The Vampire Diaries an A+ for relatability (she really covers a lot of ground in the two-minute period he leaves to get her a glass of water.), I give it a C- in button-down after sexual realism. Stefan was wearing a black hoodie and a T-shirt on their date night. Are you honestly telling me that Elena or Stefan chose to get up, walk over to the closet, and pick out his best funeral look when a perfectly good hoodie was lying neatly on the floor beneath them? In a show filled with vampires, witches, and werewolves, this felt the least fathomable.

I know that Hollywood isn’t staging some conspiracy to taunt me with overused, unrealistic tropes until I finally shut my laptop and read a goddamn book. But I even tried to better understand the mindset of directors by slipping on a button-down after sex with my partner, hoping it would fill me with both wisdom and whimsy. Instead, it felt tight in all the wrong places and barely covered my bottom. I found myself yearning for a pair of sweats.

This Awards Season, I’m not asking for much more than aftercare depicted on screen as it really, truly is: sexy, yes — but also sloppy, sweaty, and lacking in starch.