Welcome to “The Morning After,” a regular WKND column dedicated to discussing campus love life through a nonheteronormative lens. Named for that feeling you get when you can’t stop talking about what you did last night, “The Morning After” brings the wise reflection of those Sunday brunch conversations to you before the weekend arrives. This week, in honor of Spring Fling, we’ll be discussing the complexities of going-out attire at Yale, from what you’re wearing to why you’re wearing it and for whom you’re wearing it.
Per usual, this column is formatted as a dialogue between the two of us, two anonymous queer women of Yale, complete with unnecessary tangents and (occasional) hints of wisdom. So, pull up a chair and join us over a cup of Tazo tea as we dive into the ups and downs of hooking up, fucking up and breaking/making up at Yale.
C: So, to get things started, what are you thinking of wearing for Spring Fling?
O: Not sure. I want to be shocking, but also kind of want to look hot.
C: I went for hot last year and have no regrets. Granted, it was like 80 degrees so no one was wearing clothes.
O: Last year I went hot too, and after a dilemma even ended up shaving. And will probably shave this year too. But also Cupcakke is coming, so I am like, “Can this be when I liberate myself?”
C: Right? No sponsor plug (but Cupcakke, please sponsor this column), but would encourage all Yale students to genuinely check her out. We were originally on the fence, but have since gone full Team Cupcakke. @Finn S, come at us.
O: Actually her rhymes are pretty great. There is this verse from “LGBT” that mentions good hygiene, and I’m all about it. And even though her songs are quite explicit, I think people are uncomfortable not just because she is almost naked in her videos, but because she subverts how and why women look attractive.
C: Definitely. It really illuminates how our culture only allows certain women to embrace their sexuality. So many female performers wear like nothing, but I feel like people don’t get viscerally offended in the same way. It’s like how she acts is an affront to these unspoken rules.
O: When she breaks the social dress code people can’t deal with it.
C: Honestly, her aesthetic actually makes me want to wear blue lipstick, which I feel like would be both liberating and stressful. I always get nervous about making bold makeup or fashion choices because I feel like it makes people label me. I feel weird when I wear things that “make a statement,” even when that overall statement is subverting social norms which is something I support.
O: I really feel that. That’s a big part of why I ended up shaving. It’s also probably why I dress the way I do when I regularly go out. Sometimes I go for those tight jeans and low-cut black top just because they are the safest, most neutral thing I can wear.
C: It’s true, I have exactly two typical “going-out looks” which I view as neutral, but thinking about them, they are so geared toward the male gaze. Obviously, I feel great in them, so I should be able to wear them, but I think the bigger issue is how limiting this small selection is. Like all these looks that I look and feel good in are some variation upon a “hot” black tank top and tight jeans.
O: I agree that those clothes are gear toward the male gaze. But what happens when you take (straight) men out of the picture? Like what do you wear when there’s a Co-Op party?
C: Well, actually funny story. I arrived at Yale wildly unsure about my sexuality, so I attended both Co-Op parties my freshman year as “straight girl ally” (@all freshman, I had my great Gay awakening the weekend of Spring Fling, so keep an eye out.) This year, when I shifted to going with the intent of actually attracting someone, I felt like I entered this new space where I didn’t have to wear my classic look. But I had also never really considered how I would dress in a social setting if I wasn’t trying to attract straight men, so there was all this new freedom, but I had absolutely no idea what to do with it. What’s been your experience?
O: Since I’ve always identified as queer, I have a different worry dressing up for queer events. When I am at queer (also sometimes “indie-alt”) parties wearing my go-to, basic, femme clothes, I am worried that I look like I am trying too hard to appeal to the male gaze, something I should’ve been freed from. And if I hope to attract other women, I don’t know if this “hot girl” look will attract them or just be considered too base.
C: I definitely agree with feeling like I’m asserting my identity with clothing choices, whether that means that I’m basic or “alt” or any specific type of queer identity (sporty gay, blazer gay, etc.) That’s why I’m always surprised when I see people wearing their normal daytime clothing at parties. I feel like I get in the anti-Cupcakke mode of being like “Why aren’t you following the same rules as me?”
O: That can be both refreshing and frustrating. If other people are chill, I don’t always have to dress up. But then when I spend 30 minutes getting ready when I didn’t have to, I feel vain. Actually though, I think I put as much effort into what I wear to class. But there is definitely something else going on when I get ready for the night. Once when I was high at 216, I noticed that almost all the men looked exactly how they would look in class. Like I couldn’t even name one thing they changed about their appearance to come into this space. And then I was like, “Do men ever dress up to go out?”
C: I think that’s the thing that gets me. I actually really support people not feeling like they need to alter themselves to go out, but the fact that it’s so extremely gendered makes me uncomfortable.
O: It is weird, because men also have different dress codes for formal and casual settings. But even then, I don’t see a spectrum of “hotness,” which translates in this context to “willingness to have sex with you.” There are no specific social cues that I can tell from a man’s clothing that would classify him as “potential hookup” vs. not.
C: That’s so true. It’s kind of ridiculous that I have designated certain clothes as essentially hookup bait. And I think the word “bait” is really important here, because they’re not necessarily the clothes that I feel most empowered to initiate a hookup wearing, but more the clothes that indicate to others that they can make a move. Which I guess could be powerful, but also affirms the dynamic of men doing the “choosing?”
O: I wonder if some of that is because we believe that men are always ready to hookup and that women need to signal it because we either don’t want to have sex, or really need to show that we do. It’s not like I can just wear what I wear to class and be considered for a basement make out session and if I am wearing something that is supposed to indicate sexual approachability, I’m no longer the girl you check p-sets with.
C: Totally Madonna-whore complex in action. It’s like you’re celibate and pure — one ideal of femininity— in class but then you put on a tight dress, you’re basically free for the taking. Of course, not every man is just waiting for you to be one or the other, but it seems like a fair explanation for why women not dressing up seems so subversive because you’re essentially taking the “Madonna” into the “whore” space.
O: I think the issue arises from how our clothing interacts with the spaces we inhabit. I’d like to believe that people who interact with me during the day when I am wearing jeans and a button-down want to get to know me as a person. But they might not want the same thing at a party, when I have transformed into my night-creature self: complete with dress and the makeup, meeting the demands of the party as a single woman ready to mingle.
C: “Night-creature self,” I like that. Very sexy, it’s like I’m on the prowl. Oh my god, I’m feeding into it. It’s so funny that dressing in daytime attire makes me so not sexualized, because when you actually date someone, they see you in normal clothing all the time and obviously still think you’re sexy. Also, this might be based on stereotypes of queer women being too into commitment, but I feel like in my experience, there’s far less of a divide between the day-to-day self and night-sexy self. I feel like most of the women I hook up with would actually get a coffee or at least talk with me afterward. But also I could just be into commitment-happy women.
O: Agreed. But even in queer party spaces, it feels like women dress more deliberately than men do. Although I think that queer men can have more distinct going-out and staying-in looks than straight men, the range is still not as extreme as that of women. Maybe it’s because almost all of us are brought up to appeal to the male gaze. Can you even claim that queer women dressing for other queer women are still operating under the male gaze?
C: I’m really not sure. I feel like I hate that because I’m like “Male gaze, get the fuck out. No one asked for you.” And it just feels like the patriarchy is inescapable, which is disheartening. But thinking about it objectively, probably yes.
O: Yikes. The thing is though, at the end of the day I do enjoy the way I look when I dress up to go out. Whether I am wearing the simplest, most conspicuously hot thing I have, or something a little more experimental.
C: I think the important thing about all of this is reconciling these social dynamics with what you personally like. Recently, I wore my school clothes to a party, and while it was definitely liberating, I did miss the ritual of getting ready and making my night a special event. I guess for me, the healthiest thing is just dressing intentionally because I enjoy it, but ensuring that that intention comes from myself.
O: I still haven’t gone out without dressing up at all. That might come in time, but also I don’t want to shame myself for wanting to look good and feel good. There should be a way to be attractive, outside of the Madonna-whore binary.
C: For me, I think it’s just about expanding the options I consider when I want to “look good.” Like there are so many ways that I haven’t tried yet, but I think I’m starting to explore little by little.
That’s the end of our talk today, folks. If this conversation stirred up as many unresolved feelings for you as it did for us, send along your thoughts, questions and suggestions for future columns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Committed & Obsessed
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