When I was a sophomore in college, I had a friend in one of the school's more popular sororities who was always encouraging me to join. "What would I have to do?" I'd ask. "Well, just, like, wear and say whatever we want during pledge week...mostly just getting really drunk, doing stupid stuff with frat guys and wearing pins on your underwear that you'd show us if we asked. After that, it's pretty easy."
This was never acceptable to me-even for a week. Though I think many of those young women were nice and they had fun, the rules of their sorority just seemed too humiliating and oppressive. (Pins on my underwear? No, thanks.) They were not, however, anywhere near as petty, cruel, and God-awful rude as the strict six-page style guide recently put out by Cornell University's Pi Beta Phi sorority.
The document, which is meant to be followed by all Pi Beta Phi pledges during Rush Week and was recently leaked to several online outlets (we're a little late to the party on this one), reveals the kind of oppressive, elitist fashion advice that's your basic "Mean Girls" nightmare. It includes restrictions on everything from types of brands ("No American Apparel leggings") and price points, to heel height and pants length ("No cropped pants. Ugh.") There are also loads of grooming demands, makeup requirements, and a non-negotiable set of laws about accessories, which the wannabe Pi Beta Phis "must" wear. Some of the more outrageous advice:
Clothes and accessories
- No watches with timers or any kind of Indiglo light are allowed. ("I will have the time to keep you informed, so unless your watch is a piece of jewelry, you don't need it. Put on a bangle.")
- Pi Phi members should not wear satin unless they weigh under 130 pounds or the piece is from Dolce & Gabbana or Betsey Johnson (Ed note: Betsey Johnson as the epitome of class? Ha-ha-ha!)
- No "frumpy" clothes or "muffin top."
- "Booties ok if you can pull them off, aka probably not."
- On jewelry: "I won't tolerate any gross plastic shizzzz. I love things on wrists and I demand earrings if your ears are pierced."
- No chapped lips or mustaches.
- "Blush is not optional."
- Hair must be "freshly colored."
- "You best have a mani/pedi when you get to Ithaca."
It's hard to know what's the saddest part of this story: The idea that young women would willingly comply with these rather restrictive, pretentious, and sheep-like rules (and even seek out this sort of social environment and find it highly desirable) or the fact that this movie-parody bitchiness exists in the first place. From a fashion standpoint, by pushing the notion that everyone should look the same, and by stripping the act of getting dressed of all imagination, personality, and creativity, the author of this "guide" is not just being catty and exclusive, but she's also perpetuating an outdated definition of what it is to be stylish-one that is wrong-headed, boring, and makes people feel left out and bad about themselves. It's not anything new, but in this day and age, it's just not anywhere near where women-young or old-should be.
UPDATE: The university is taking the entire situation in stride. When contacted by Shine, Blaine Friedlander, assistant director of the Cornell press office, suggested that the style guide really wasn't so bad and pointed out that the First Amendment protects Pi Phi sorority, even if it was. Therefore, Cornell's policy regarding a memo like this is simple: "Freedom of speech. If Cornell were to tell anybody on this campus what they can and can't say, that would send a chill up the spine of every Cornellian." He added, "If you read them carefully, they are suggestions on how to dress. It's suggestion and direction. Obviously, if somebody tells me I have to wear a black tie to an event I don't necessarily have to."