The Viral 'Girlfriend Effect' Trend, Explained

Nothing can signal a fresh start filled with confidence and excitement as much as a glow-up. In 2023, many male TikTok users — and guys whose girlfriends use TikTok — rely on the "girlfriend effect" to improve their appearances. In other words, the "girlfriend effect" is the idea that guys start putting more effort into — or full-on changing, in some cases — how they present themselves because of their girlfriends.


Of course, most people have had those times when they've spent a little extra time and effort getting ready for a romantic date night or got a stylish new piece of clothing or accessory as a gift from a romantic partner and were excited to wear it for them. But the "girlfriend effect" trend takes the idea further. For example, TikToker @stellabellakate posted a video showing how her boyfriend dressed significantly more casually before her relationship with him. Thus, he went from wearing more laid-back, comfy-looking clothes to button-downs and suits. The trend implies that had the two never met, his style wouldn't have changed.

Girls are showing on social media how they've improved their boyfriends' appearances

Sometimes, the "girlfriend effect" is about even more than clothes. TikTokers Andrea & Lewis posted a video of a "girlfriend effect" that involved not only a new wardrobe but also what looked like a total makeover. In the video, the woman shows that before the relationship, her now-husband wore glasses and had a unibrow, facial hair, and long-ish hair — but he now has a much more polished, clean-cut appearance with no facial hair, perfectly-trimmed eyebrows, and a more styled-looking haircut. Impressed viewers commented, "IN GIRLFRIEND EFFECT WE TRUST," "I think you just won the 'Girlfriend effect' challenge lol," and "No way that's the same guy." 


The "girlfriend effect" trend also connects to the relationship escalator idea. "[The relationship escalator idea] presumes the ultimate goal of any relationship is a long-term, committed, monogamous relationship, codified in marriage... We're expected to meet, go on a date, have sex, fall in love, move in together, get married and have kids—and in that order," Stephen Quaderer, the CEO of ThotExperiment who created the sex-positive dating app Headero, told Cosmopolitan. It appears that the "girlfriend effect" is gaining a spot on the relationship escalator, showing that a male glow-up is a sign the relationship is getting serious enough to reach the next step of the "escalator."

Is the girlfriend effect healthy?

While many TikTok users find amusement and pride in the "girlfriend effect" trend, asking or telling a romantic partner to change his style or looks and documenting those changes on social media can be concerning, depending on how the girl goes about giving the suggestions. According to a Stylecraze article by Sneha Tete, a Certified Relationship Coach — and reviewed by Karen Marshall, a Certified Relationship and Dating Expert — most men want their partners to be honest without coming across as bossy or aggressive. Thus, it's best to give style advice nicely and respectfully without sounding condescending or demanding. 


That said, some men enjoy the "girlfriend effect," as their partners' appearance-related suggestions help them develop their style and confidence — in these cases, the "girlfriend effect" is healthy and beneficial. "I just genuinely had no idea what to wear ... I never had a style that I had to abandon because my girlfriend was showing me new clothes," Gabe Escobar, a TikToker who had a positive experience with the trend, told NBC News. "I just didn't have a style. And now I do."