Last Saturday, I crashed the Theta Crush Party at Caffe Adulis. I am not a Theta, nor am I a Theta crush, although after a few drinks anything can happen. In fact, I was working as an undercover reporter, researching the fashion trends and tricks of Yale’s social cliques, including the hottest, most-coveted sorority girls on campus (judging from the number of crushes who showed up, at least).
You might be wondering, why was this an undercover report? Fashion doesn’t require spying: it’s right there in front of you. My job was simple, to find out what groups choose which fashions. But when I went asking around — even offering my real name, affiliation and story assignment to potential interviewees — I discovered something shocking. Nobody wants to talk about fashion.
I couldn’t believe it. You’d think I was asking them to reveal their religion or SAT scores or something. But all I wanted to know was where they like to shop and what accessory they’d never leave home without. Honestly, is this so libelous?
I tried to imagine some reasons for this inhibition. Fashion is, after all, a form of self-expression — so no one would want to say they dress like all their friends in Theta or Beta or what have you. But more importantly, no one wants to contribute to a stereotype, especially stereotypes that are largely untrue.
So, to see if I could spot any general trends, I decided to risk life and limb, or at least getting kicked out of Adulis. I decided to go undercover.
My operation began with a thorough examination of the Greek scene at the party. But spying at Adulis was not as easy as it may sound: it was dark in there. I spent a lot of time squinting, trying to figure out whether someone’s slinky, cowl-neck top was rayon or matte jersey. All in a day’s work for an ace reporter like myself, of course.
While slinking among the well-dressed crowd, weakly attempting to be subtle after too much red wine, I managed to detect a few general trends. Most of the girls wore separates — the only dresses were classic little black numbers, worn with good heels and dangling earrings. The fabric of choice was certainly matte jersey (all my squinting paid off), a flowing, clingy material that slims and drapes the figure.
While I saw the occasional blue-sequined skirt, or the red A-line, basic black was the staple. In fact, three girls — perhaps not all Thetas — were wearing the same all-black outfit. Needless to say, they stayed away from each other.
But besides this ill-fated collision of matching attire, I actually saw a great deal of diversity. Among the crushes — a good mix of frat boys, athletes and artsy types — styles ranged from the traditional khaki-and-blue-shirt combo to a leopard-print sports jacket.
As one Beta boy told me, style can’t be generalized in the Greek world.
“The different frats are really diverse,” he said. “There’s a mix, but all I can say is that it’s kind of preppy.”
Beta Boy went on to cite SAE as the preppiest of the bunch — they must have been the khakied boys.
The artsy types were pretty easy to distinguish from the khaki crowd — they of the thrift store sweaters, threadbare coats and fake glasses.
As one fashion maven told me, even in the artsy world, it isn’t easy to generalize and group people into a coherent fashion clique.
“At Yale it all seems to blend together, along the spectrum from ‘intellectual artiste/thespian’ to ‘spazzy-indie-rocker,'” Samantha Culp ’04 said. “There seems to be a dearth of mods, though, something that really depresses me.”
While Culp imagined she fit a stereotype, she said “I think I’m generally too lazy to follow through on being fashion-minded every day.”
One group immediately came to mind — the one clique whose fashion sense relies on laziness about fashion — the Footies, or to be more general, the outdoorsy, tree-hugging type. My undercover operation moved from Adulis to random on-campus locales, right to the source: the dorm of a Footie.
Sam Ash ’04 epitomizes Footie. He’s been a FOOT leader for a year now, and has scores of Nalgene bottles to prove it. Engage him and he will let you know that the old-school white Nalgene is the real deal, and the iMac-bright bottles are poor imitations. Like a good outdoorsman, he sports a piece of parachute cord on his wrist and a homemade hemp necklace.
This Footie is a firm believer in thrift-store T-shirts paired with fleeces and down jackets that probably cost as much as the 1988 Camry I drove in high school. He swears by long underwear, claiming to love it with his “heart and soul.”
Yet, continuing the trend in Yale social cliques of defying stereotypes, he claims to shower daily.
“You can see people who are crunchy, but they’re not necessarily FOOT people,” he said. “But not all FOOT people are granola, either.”
At this point his roommate entered complaining of a strange smell, which the boys both ignored. Instead they flipped through the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue as they tuned in to the “Glutton Bowl” on Fox. After watching five large men eat jars of mayonnaise, I decided my investigation was over. Investigative reporting is not for the faint of heart.
After all my in-depth research, I found that my sources had some sort of consciousness of fashion and the stereotypes therein, but they also felt distinct and unique. While they occasionally play to type, self-expression comes before the norms of a social clique.