February 8, 2007

Dress Up and Don’t Let Down

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Cornellians seem to have a penchant for dressing up at the slightest hint of any occasion. During my month of job interviews, I was forced to spend countless nights camped out in my sister’s dorm room at the NYU School of Medicine. When her friends learned that I went to Cornell, I was instantly privy to tales of former Cornellians who had gained notoriety amongst their new classmates for creating ridiculous, elaborate and often borderline-offensive costumes; I couldn’t help but wince as my sister eagerly displayed pictures of one student who had spent his Halloween as an Orthodox Jewish stripper.

Theme parties are certainly standard at any college — the ’80s party is a perfect example — but my sisters’ classmates have led me to question Cornell’s singular infatuation with costuming. My own love of dressing up began with a costume party at JAM in the spring semester of my freshman year. Now, I’ve never been one to jump at the idea of dorm-sponsored parties, but my friends and I had just seen Kill Bill and, inspired by Tarantino’s stylized ultra-violence, decided to go as bullet-ridden slasher-victims. The concept whipped us into frenzy; we spent an entire afternoon creating bullet molds, faux skin-flaps and corn-syrup blood, using eye shadow to imitate bruising on our faces and necks. The four of us arrived at the party looking like we had just stepped off the set of a George A. Romero film, and somehow we still came in second to someone wearing a giant red box and claiming to be the Cornell Box Office. Whoever you are, I still despise you. Despite this blow to my ego, I was hooked.
There is something extremely refreshing about the theme party, which undermines all see-and-be-seen norms by catering to an intelligence-based sexuality. The stars of the party are those with the clearest wit, the most novel approach, and each successive year at Cornell presented more challenging themes for invitees to tackle. When I finally gained the courage to leave campus in my sophomore year, I discovered that the already-tired ’80s theme had given way to Western, Miami Vice, and ’70s-porn themed parties. Junior year I threw my own successful hobo party, complete with faux trashcan fire, and attended a particularly controversial Vietnam party where attendees could play “Vietpong,” beer pong with a giant plant in the middle of the table to obstruct the player’s view. This Cornell tradition is only strengthened by our emboldened defiance of the weather. We’ve all rolled our eyes at the girl walking down Dryden in hot pants and bare legs in the middle of January; she loses her appeal by sheer impracticality.

Unable to look casually sexy in sub-zero wind chill, however, one can still attract others through a clever or enthusiastic take on a party’s theme. If this same girl threw on some gold tights, vintage red platforms, and painted a blue stripe across her eyes, we applaud the Bowie-inspired outfit that she has obviously put together for a fabulous glam rock party, even if she does crash-land on the ice before reaching College Ave.

Unfortunately, the theme party has gone out of style this year. Of the few that were thrown last semester, none had the energy and participation of past years. Hosts failed to adorn their walls with theme-appropriate décor, costumes were standardized and mediocre, themes tended towards the blasé. Furthermore, a failed theme party — one in which only a few guests dress up — is particularly embarrassing to its hosts, and after suffering through my own much-anticipated, heavily funded “tropical apocalypse” party in December, I became gun-shy about attending them at all.

Have we really lost our enthusiasm for the fantastic, the whimsical, and the theatrical? Has our thirst for wit truly succumbed to an overwhelming desire for night after night of standard party fare? This past weekend, I skeptically stumbled into a self-professed “animal party” where, to my surprise, everyone except me was dressed up in fur and feathers.

Although out of place in my sweater, skirt and legwarmers, I was relieved and inspired by the event’s success. My friends, theme is not dead. Somewhere within you is the creativity and drive inherent in all Cornellians, a natural inclination to unite our Ivy-league education with our excessive partying. Trust me when I say that, beyond the frozen streets of Ithaca, we have a reputation to keep alive.