Clothed-Off from the Rest of Society
October 25, 2004
The inevitable temperature drop in late October combined with the last of the Greek Festivals until May means that the limited amount of times that you’ll see Greeks in D.C., you’ll see them in a limited amount of clothes. When I say limited, I’m not referring to the quantity of clothing that they’ll be wearing, although temperature seems to have no effect on the amount of clothing many girls wear when they go to Greek Night. It’s more the variety of clothing that is limited, particularly when you’re looking at the guys. From October until May, chances to see Greeks are typically confined between Thursday and Sundays and fall into the categories of happy hours, Greek Nights, a handful of semi-formals, a convention in November (YAL DC Weekend), and church on Sundays. For guys therefore, it breaks down into the categories of Greek Night wear and suits, and for girls it breaks down to Greek Night wear, party dresses and church wear. So this means the majority of other Greek-Americans never see a Greek-American’s closet.
What exactly is Greek Night wear? Greek Night wear is basically something you could never get away with wearing anywhere else but Greek Night. Greek Night wear is black, gray, white and maybe a dark blue or dark red for guys. Girls can obviously get away with much brighter colors. But browns, greens, beiges and other non-primary colors are not on the menu, even if they happen to be seasonal. For guys, button down shirts are usually a safe choice. Until recently, sweaters of any kind would have been forbidden for the simple reason that Greek Nights are typically ultra-crowded smoky affairs, but at some Greek Nights recently in Bethesda with its prohibition on smoking indoors, a sweater might not only be appropriate, but necessary, when the majority of the crowd is outside smoking in the brisk fall air.
While Greek girls for the most part have an easy time knowing that Greek Night wear isn’t to be worn anywhere but Greek Night, Greek guys can be easily confused because Greek Night wear looks like the stuff of the business casual office. Most office dress codes allow for collared shirts and slacks that aren’t jeans. The unstated expectation in DC though particularly with the diminished clout of the internet-economy types is a return to a more professional business casual monotonous duality of blue-shirt, white-shirt. If you want to test how much of a Greek Night outfit a certain shirt and pant combination is, try wearing it to the office. If you get looks and comments from your boss on a Tuesday, it’s a good outfit. If you get looks and comments from your boss on a Friday, it’s a great outfit. There’s no need to go home after work – just find a happy hour to kill some time before 11:30 rolls around – because you’re all set.
At Greek Dances and other semiformal events, the suit for guys and cocktail dresses for girls are standard issue. In recent years girls have gotten away with wearing pants to Greek Dances for the sake of mobility on the dance floor, which wouldn’t have been thinkable 10 years ago. For many Greek guys Greek Dances are one of the few opportunities to wear a tie and break a long-standing fashion rule. Unless you’re in the mafia, your shirt should never be darker than your tie. Many Greek guys rejoiced when Regis Philbin on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” made the dark shirt tone-on-tone look popular they’d been sporting for years popular for about 10 months.
Multiple day conferences/conventions with a daytime activity component to them pose some of the biggest problems for Greek-Americans. Not only do you have to plan for a combination of Greek Night and Greek Dance outfits and then actually having to hang out with other Greek-Americans during the day. This is where many Greek-Americans find themselves powerless, particularly the guys, who can’t simply rotate between Greek Night outfits, which would look out of place during the day anyway.
Certain staples and highlights of the DC wardrobe sadly are never seen worn by Greeks around other Greeks. The blue blazer never makes it out, even to church. Greek girls don’t wear sundresses, even during summer. And there is never an excuse for a Greek guy to wear a tuxedo outside of being in a wedding. As a Greek community in DC we really don’t have a level below or above that of the strictest of semi-formal modes.
Perhaps the saddest thing is that we never see each other dressed down. Greek guys should all know what a Greek girl looks like on a Saturday morning when she’s at the grocery store. Greek girls should all know what a Greek guy looks like on a Sunday night sitting at the couch at home. Only then would many Greek-Americans interactions with each other extend past the Thursday night to Sunday at church realm and become like our daily interactions in the non-Greek world.