No subset of the communal student body is subject to criticism, ridicule and derision more often than the Greek set. Whether it stems from competition, jealousy or that age-old collegiate need to lampoon one’s peers, the mockery often carries a big ouch factor.
Take the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma, which over the years has pledged a broad range of women including Ashley Judd, Kate Spade, Jane Pauley and Pulitzer-prize winning poet Phyllis McGinley, to name a few. Despite the varied post-graduate accomplishments of such members, among the collegiate set Kappas have a reputation for something else as well: conspicuous consumption. Thus, over the years, the sorority has acquired some dubious nicknames — “Daddy Daddy Buy Me” or more often, “Visa Visa MasterCard.” Are such snarky nicknames warranted? Are Kappas more focused on fun, fashion and fraternities than the average, academic-minded coed?
Probably not. Yet it seems that at least at the national level, they do tend to take the ribbing a tad seriously. When contacted for this story, several chapters across the country were advised by their Province Directors of Chapters, not to respond. And high-ranking members of the Kappa Kappa Gamma Fraternity Council, the national governing body based in Columbus, Ohio, proved elusive, to say the least. Coeds at one school who had e-mailed happily to muse on matters of fashion even contacted WWD to retract their responses.
But a few intrepid sisters were willing — even excited for the opportunity — to set the record straight. They see themselves as well-rounded young adults who are proud of their sorority’s reputation, as well as its academic and volunteer history. Sure, they’re interested in having fun, and they like to look good in the process. But then, what would campus be without those delightful extracurricular diversions?
When asked point blank if “Visa Visa MasterCard” applies to their chapters or to Kappas in general, sisters from around the country responded in earnest unison, citing misunderstandings and “unfair stereotypes.” Well, OK, some say, there may be a half-truth to the characterization. “Yes, the nickname is warranted,” says one freshman Kappa at a Midwestern school. “That was one of the reasons I joined it.” She goes on to explain that while the nicknames make for an extreme caricature of reality, most of the Kappas do come from “metropolitan areas like New York and L.A., and do tend to dress well.” For better or worse, the Greek system is about reveling in shared interests rather than celebrating diversity.
“You could always tell a Kappa on campus,” notes a recent graduate from a Southern university. “We’re generally well-dressed, put-together young ladies.” No longer involved with the sorority, she also divulged the words of a chant, of unknown origin, that made for a giggle within her Kappa house. Assorted lyrics include “Born on a ranch, raised by nanny; got a triple set of gold cards and two minks…charge it, charge it.” Outside of the house, she says, she would never have even hummed the tune.
Senior Lauren Weiss, a sister in the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Beta Delta chapter, says outsiders view Kappas as “elitist, superficial and known for their spending habits and trendy fashions” — an unfair assessment given that countless sisters work full- or part-time to put themselves through school. “It’s unfortunate that people think that everything comes easy for a Kappa girl,” she laments.
Epsilon Lambda is the Kappa chapter at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. “Neither of those [Visa Visa MasterCard or Daddy Daddy Buy Me] is true here,” says junior Sasha Jenell Watson. “We have money, but we definitely don’t flaunt it or act snobby.”
“People always have the need to label and stereotype,” offers Iowa State journalism senior Jennifer Ann Lupient, a member of the sorority’s Delta Omicron chapter. “It’s funny how being classy and confident is translated into stuck up and spoiled.”
At Indiana University, Kappa’s Delta chapter is referred to as “Polos and Pearls,” says Leah Weinstock, a junior speech language pathology student. She and her sisters think that their preppy approach to dressing sometimes gets misconstrued as snobbish, thus the nickname. They, however, prefer a different adjective — “classy,” as does just about every Kappa surveyed for this story. The word surfaces so often that one can imagine it having been drummed into the pledges’ psyches during rush week, a genteel, some might say anachronistic notion in these days of “Girls Gone Wild.”
Now, as for the supposed fruits of those Visa Visa purchases, Kappa girls don’t seem all that different from many other coeds in their fashion preferences. Some girls, though by no means all, display a healthy knowledge of fashion, with Tom Ford and Manolo Blahnik ranking high on the recognition meter thanks to “Sex and the City” and fashion mags that get recycled throughout sorority houses. Like most college girls, Kappas usually wear jeans (especially Citizens for Humanity and Seven), T-shirts and other comfortable, practical clothes to class. When going out, it’s all about balancing flirty with sexy, as in pairing a revealing top with a demure bottom, or vice versa. “If the window is open,” says Weiss, “you gotta shut the door!” But it’s the sorority penchant for formals that allows Kappas to go that extra dressed-up mile, usually in a Little Black Dress kind of way.
“Not everyone is fashionable every day,” says marketing senior Katie Rouse, another Iowa State sister. “But at times, everyone is fashionable in her own way.”
And if that gets a girl or her group lampooned, so be it. Besides, as sorority reputations go, the rap for conspicuous consumption pales next to nastier slogans about some other sororities. “There’s always ‘Tri Delt, everyone else has,’” laughs the Kappa freshman. “So in the grand scheme of things, if we get a reputation for being snotty, it’s not the worst thing in the world.”
Some girls even manage to maintain a sense of humor about it. “Don’t forget ‘Kappa Kappa Gucci,’” Lupient muses, offering up yet another nickname. “That’s always a laugh.”