The other day my roommates and I had a punk-grunge themed house party, and I dressed up in ripped jeans and plaid for the occasion. Apparently everyone else had the same idea, because my apartment ended up looking like a lumberjack convention. This brought me to the sad realization that an entire subculture, spanning roughly two decades – with all the politics, musical innovations, and irreverent attitudes that came with it – could be boiled down into two articles of clothing. This upset me, and led me to think about other theme parties I’ve attended at McGill.
Many are familiar with nineties night at A-Side (previously known as Lodge). The standard attire generally includes bright jackets, Ray-Ban sunglasses, baseball caps and graphic-T-shirts of nineties bands and TV sitcoms. Here, again, the the spirit of the decade is condensed into a few consumer goods. Eighties parties tend to invite spandex, Madonna-inspired outfits, and Flock-of-Seagull hair-dos. You know it’s a sixties and seventies party if you see flared jeans, peasant shirts, summer dresses, and peace signs. There’s a relative lack of parties celebrating the earlier decades.
Colour theme parties are also popular. There are white parties, black and white parties, pink parties, and stop-light parties. The downside of these parties is that if you decide to leave them halfway through and go elsewhere, you and your friends get weird looks for wearing the same colour.
Then there are parties named according to the specific articles of clothing: toga parties, lingerie parties, and “no pants” parties. Toga parties usually result in numerous Animal House references, along with the odd person modeling their embarrassing Care Bears bed sheets.
Then there are the parties with designated male and female roles, which usually rhyme. These are the “corporate ‘hos and CEOs,” “golf pros and tennis ‘hos,” and some other clever things that rhyme with ‘hos. This is usually seen as an excuse for girls to dress as promiscuously as possible without being labeled “sluts.” When we were younger, we used to dress up in the garbs of the jobs that we aspired to obtain; costumes included doctors, policemen, firefighters, ballerinas, and musicians. Now the boys dress up as successful professionals and the girls dress up as sex objects. University students are said to be progressive and liberal-minded but these parties play up gender stereotypes.
The final, and most disturbing category is parties held to raise funds for charity. These parties usually have covers between $5-$40 and an open bar. Students are invited to drink to their heart’s delight in the name of helping those less fortunate.
Philanthropic though their intentions may be, there’s something morally problematic about this. Students get drunk, grind distastefully on the dance floor, and hook up with strangers, all the while helping children in Africa orphaned by AIDS who do not have access to clean drinking water, let alone alcohol.
Is this the right way to alleviate bourgeois guilt? These parties do raise a considerable amount of money for their respective charities, but their humanitarian messages get lost somewhere between the tequila shots and the Boreal.
With all of these theme parties, I’m left wondering why we have them at all. Why can’t students simply have a party? It seems as if people either really like playing dress up or they feel as if their own culture is not very exciting, so they must dip into the dress codes of previous times.
After interviewing various people who are significantly older than the average undergrad, I have come to the conclusion that this overabundance of themed parties is specific to our generation. But is this is something to be concerned about, or a celebration of our creativity? I will let you be the judge.