Gen Z have earned their title as the ‘woke’ generation once again, this time turning their attention to the garment named after an act of domestic violence. It’s the wife beater no more – meet the far less ‘triggering’ wife pleaser.
Gen Z seems to be unable to go a single day without deeming something passé.
Whether that’s skinny jeans, thumbs-up emoji or even Santa Clause, the chronically online generation are constantly ‘cancelling’ things they don’t think are ‘woke’ enough.
Their latest target? The wife beater. Not the sleeveless shirt itself, of course, but the name – considered by some to be triggering and trivialising domestic violence.
The simple garment has long-been associated with a stereotypical, ‘macho’, blue-collar male. In 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Marlon Brando donned the now-controversial shirt and, more recently, star of The Bear, Jeremy Allen White, is well known for wearing the piece, both on and off screen.
While the sleeveless top is not being cancelled itself, the name is now thought of as not fit for purpose.
There are numerous versions of how the moniker came about, but fashion historians tend to lean into one approach.
In 1947, a man in Detroit was arrested for beating his wife to death and photographed in a vest, likely influencing the long-established name for the wife beater.
Gen Z tend to use TikTok as their virtual message board and that’s true for the name change.
The hashtags #wifepleaser and #wifepleasertank boast tens of millions of views on the app and countless content creators have been showing off their outfits, hailing the first ever “wife pleaser” summer.
There have been many attempts over the years to rehabilitate the undershirt’s negative image. The Simpsons referred to it as a ‘wife blesser’ and Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness tried ‘wife lover’ – but nothing has stuck.
That is, until now.
Ironically, the hottest top of the summer – officially – is technically a wife beater. Loewe’s logoed vest has been worn by celebrities and influencers alike, cementing the garment as a must-have piece.
Not everyone in Gen Z is so thrilled about the name change though.
Some are calling the term ‘wife pleaser’ “cringe” and asking why it can’t be referred to as a ‘tank top’ or ‘undershirt’ as a more straightforward alternative.
New York based TikTok user Sarah Feigin led the pack, saying, “Whoever woke up one day and decided, ‘Oh yes, let’s replace wife beater with the term wife pleaser,’ and didn’t think it was just gonna be the grossest, most ickiest terminology for a tank top in the world was sick in the head”.
2023 is not the first time more sensitive members of the online community have tried to get the admittedly unappealing name changed.
Five years ago, an article in The New York Times ran with the headline: “Are we really still calling this shirt a wife beater?” and called the name “grossly inappropriate” in the #MeToo era.
In the 2018 think piece, Moises Velasquez-Manoff added: “We don’t call our pants ‘child molesters’ or our hats ‘cat mutilators’. We immediately recognise such descriptions as violent and abhorrent. And yet, we somehow overlook the same when we call our shirts ‘wife beaters’.”
It’s entirely likely that the term ‘wife pleaser’ will disappear into the annals of internet history, following the journey of similar Gen Z-coined expressions.
Whether the ‘wife pleaser’ summer will continue into autumn is very much up in the air, but this might be one of the least controversial things the TikTok generation have judged to be unseemly. For that, we salute them.