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90’s, Midriff, and Self Proclaimed Dress Codes

As a first year, I came to college never having gone to a party before. I went to a small Christian high school where partying was unheard of, and if it was heard of, it was always placed in the negative light. Therefore, when I was first approaching the “going out” aspect of my college career, what I needed to wear was a subject of high anxiety for me.

Thankfully, I’m on the soccer team, and since our season is in the fall, I wasn’t allowed to participate in any parties until about the beginning of October. Even so, the first party I was invited to I skipped because I had to write a paper, and the second time I was invited my mom was in town, so when everyone was getting dressed in their themed outfits, I was sitting on a hotel bed, scrolling through Instagram.

I specifically remember the conversation with my mom. She asked me if I was disappointed about missing “the mixer” to hang out with her instead. This question caught me by surprise. I shook my head furiously, and thought about why I didn’t care. Sure, I love my mom, but I am a college kid, and I want to do college things. But, there I was, actively making the choice to skip the college things that FOMO thrives off of.

Then, as if the anxiety hit me like three shots and a four loko, I looked at her and said, “Mom, I don’t belong at these parties. Heck, I don’t even have anything to wear!” It was strange what came over her face, as if her duties as a mother were compromised by no other than the parties on Frye Street. There she was, encouraging me to expand my comfort zone, even though I was never even equipped to wear anything past midnight besides my cat slippers and Harry Potter pajama pants.

The next day, we went to Portland and shopped for “modest, scandalous clothes”–clothes that made it clear that I was at a party, but they weren’t about to expose me to the world. But, the more and more I shopped, the more questions arose. What makes clothes, party clothes? Why can I “go out” in a shirt, but not wear it in class? And, more importantly, who am I dressing for when I decide to put on the party clothes–or as my mom likes to call them, “scandal.” Clothes are extremely important to individual expression. Unlike the high school I came from, Bates College doesn’t have a formal dress code, which is one of my favorite parts about the institution. Finally, we’re at a school where we don’t have to accommodate what we wear for the adults around us. But, somehow, I still think there is a dress code, the thing is, it’s written by us.

It goes something along the lines of this:

1. In class, look cute, but not too cute, or else you’ll seem like you try too hard. And don’t be provocative, for goodness sakes, because you have professors to impress.

2. After class, wear leggings or sweatpants, but don’t look like a hobo, because then people will be concerned about your wellbeing…or think that you’re high.

3. On Friday and Saturday nights (and maybe Thursday and Sunday, depending on how dedicated you are) you need to show off your legs, your midriff, or your cleavage (Preferably, two of the three would be nice). Only one makes you seem unconfident, and all three makes you a downright thot. Of course, this code is flexible, but ONLY if your body type is not atypical. Perhaps if you’re skinny or curvy enough you can show a little less or a little more, but only if your confidence levels permit. Afterall, there’s nothing worse than seeing someone uncomfortable in what they wear…except maybe seeing someone too comfortable in what they wear.

My whole point is, the rules are ridiculous. There is no winning, only losing, and even if you think you’re winning, your mom is calling you telling you to stop spending money at Urban Outfitters for every new Friday night theme. For this reason, among other more personal ones, I stopped showing up at whatever house was “happening” every weekend. I felt trapped, not by myself, not by anyone else in particular, but by the standards of hook up culture that encouraged me to show off enough of my body so people had the idea, but not enough to give it away.

The worst part is, us girls do it to ourselves. It’s not the outside suggestions of the boys that make us conform, it the countless questions we get throughout the week about what we’re wearing to the 90’s dance. It’s how we get together in groups after dinner to do ab work so we look “hot” in our outfits on Friday night. It’s the way we compare ourselves to the girls around us on Halloween night, wondering if we’re “slutty enough.”

The guys don’t care. We don’t dress to impress them, to lure them, or make them react. The fact is, we don’t need to dress a certain way to make a guy want to have sex. Guys will be guys, girls will be girls, and the sadness of it all, is the way we girls treat ourselves only allows the guys to be more like guys.

I went to 90’s on the night of March 7th, begrudgingly, because this element of party culture seems to suck the life out of it for me. But, when I got there, I realized that no one really cared what I was wearing. No one was focusing on my midriff or judging my cleavage. The complex itself is all in our heads.

So, I danced, I ate pizza, and I had fun, knowing that I was just another promiscuous girl in denim.

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