Are sororities cliques of look-alike dressers? Sure, but they also set the fashion for campuses across the country.
Forget sisterhood: Think fashion pack. Whether you lament sororities as bastions of antediluvian feminine roles or cheer them as nodes of postmodern female networking, you can’t dismiss the powerful influence they have on campus fashion.
After all, it’s not the T-shirts and shorts orget sisterhood: Think fashion pack. Whether you lament sororities as bastions of antediluvian feminine roles or cheer them as nodes of postmodern female networking, you can’t dismiss the powerful influence they have on campus fashion.
After all, it’s not the T-shirts and shorts emblazoned with their Greek letters they wear to class that makes sorority girls stand out; it’s the uniforms consisting of must-have bags, designer jeans and de rigueur accessories. Any frat boy worth his salt should be able to differentiate a Kappa from a Theta clear across the quad—though a casual observer might have trouble making that distinction.
What would be clear are campus-wide variations. Sorority sisters at Duke University like the Kappa Kappa Gammas and the Tri Deltas cite Seven jeans, the Tiffany toggle necklace and Louis Vuitton Pochette bags as staples, while the self-described fashion-obsessed sisters at the University of Mississippi consider Louis Vuitton, Prada and Burberry par for the course—along with certain physical attributes, nature be damned. ("The typical girl here is blond, and not natural either," said Rebekah Blakeslee, a Tri Delt. "She’s also tan even in December.") Alpha Epsilon Phi pledges at Tulane University appear in almost identical ensembles—Gucci sunglasses, "supportive" tanks, Juicy Couture velour sweatpants and Rocketdog platform flip-flops—while Kappa Deltas at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill favor Hervé Chapelier, Longchamp or Coach signature bags, pastel Polo shirts and leather Rainbow flip-flops. And the look at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University, heavy on logos like Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Hermès and Coach, is a dead giveaway outside the "Vandy bubble."
Certainly, peer pressure and the need to conform play an important role in a sorority’s look, but most sorority sisters discount such influences, citing instead the same like-mindedness that leads freshmen to pledge one house over another. "I think all the girls in our house joined the sorority for the same reason—we all have very alike personalities," says Britt Semler, a Kappa Alpha Theta at Southern Methodist University, where Seven jeans, Juicy Couture sweatpants and designer bags are a must. "It’s not like we are all wearing the same clothes because we want [to look the same], but because that’s what we like.""Girls feel like if they have the right jeans, that puts them in the right social status," says Kate de Ayora, a Tri Delt at the University of California-Berkeley.
"Some of it sort of rubs off," admits Whitney Beckett, a Kappa Kappa Gamma at Duke. "To a certain extent you see things that everyone else has and you think ‘oh, maybe I’ll do that too.’There’s no pressure to dress a certain way, but you’re attracted to people who are sort of like you."
And that like-mindedness, for better or worse, tends to raise the sophistication of a sorority’s fashion awareness. "You’re not going to see someone make a serious fashion mistake, because at Vanderbilt everybody is so conformist," says Emily Fay Abbott, former editor in chief of Vanderbilt’s campus paper, The Hustler. And Kris Luneberg, a Duke senior and the reigning Miss North Carolina, recalls birthday gifts from her sorority sisters, who often pitch in for the latest fashion must-have like the Kate Spade bag they gave her a couple of years ago.
Even when members fall back on Greek-lettered athleticwear, the look can take on a certain twist. At Northwestern, sororities have letters on their flip-flops; SMU Thetas have a rhinestone pin they put on their bags, and Tri Delts at the University of Florida tote Vera Bradley bags emblazoned with their Greek letters. "You see a lot of girls putting four-inch letters on the back of their Soffe shorts," says Courtney Harms, a Kappa Kappa Gamma at Tulane. "It can be either plaid, a contrasting color, leopard print—or camo has gotten big lately." At Ole Miss, girls dash to class in their sorority T-shirts and shorts (since they work out between classes). "I’ll wear my shirt inside out if I don’t look so good that day," says one Ole Miss sister who prefers to keep her house anonymous. "Or I’ll wear my boyfriend’s frat shirt—I’d rather them look bad."
In Southern schools such as Ole Miss and SMU, dressing up for formals, chapter meetings and tailgate parties is a must. Attire varies from business casual for meetings to Lilly Pulitzer dresses at tailgates. "It’s like there’s a prom every week," says one sorority member.For semiformals, SMU students don strapless or halter dresses, flirty flared skirts and ruffled blouses. Sabrina heels, pointy mules, boots and high-heeled sandals are popular among these girls. With a deep curtsy to the tradition of a bygone era, Ole Miss tailgating more closely resembles a debutante coming-out ball as opposed to a beer-swilling party. (They sip Champagne instead.)These "Grove Parties" (so dubbed because they are held on the big lawn on campus) are the highlight of the fall season, and girls pick their dresses with care months in advance.
"I’ll wear a cute Diane Von Furstenberg with mules or Nicole Miller to the games," says Tri Delt Blakeslee.
"Everybody dresses for the games—everybody," the Tri Delt girls chime in chorus. "Even the guys wear ties and blazers."
Comfort, they add, comes in at a distant second. "We usually end up barefoot," admits Ole Miss Tri Delt Kaycee Roper. "Carrying our heels because our feet hurt."
It’s not just tradition that sets the Southern sorority girl apart from her Northern sisters, but also an attitude and demeanor that is unmistakably Southern belle. There must be a secret charm school that includes classes in smiling brightly,flawless makeup application (a Southern girl is taught by mothers to never leave the house without at least mascara and lipgloss) and never comporting one’s self in a less-than gracious manner. So while a girl at Ole Miss may don a uniform of Seven jeans and frilly top similar to that worn by young women everywhere—on campus and off, she carries it with the same aura of grace she show in a prom dress.
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