A reflection on the relationship between dress and nightlife

By Audrey Gibbs
Contributing Writer

There are many shocking aspects to the Sewanee party culture. Depending on the night you go out, you could see anything from giant crowds dancing, a chicken head emerging out of the crowd, to an intimate get-together, where everyone is bare-faced and wearing Blundstones. 

There’s no doubt that Sewanee has a different party culture than most other schools, and with this article, I’ve tried to get to the root of why it is the way it is. I took time to interview three students who are in Greek life, all in different organizations and different years. After hearing their take on the culture of Sewanee, it is safe to say that Sewanee’s party culture is noticeably different from other campuses.

Julia Nelson (C ‘22), member of Phi Kappa Epsilon, commented that, “There’s two sides of dressing for parties here. Either you want to look good for yourself, or you just don’t care.” Nelson goes on to elaborate that there is a certain effortlessness that seems to be accentuated here at Sewanee. 

Individuals may go out on a normal night in baggie shorts, Blundstones, an oversized t-shirt on and wearing no makeup. This naturalness is comforting in some ways; there is no pressure to look a certain way. 

Yet, Tess McDonald (C‘21), member of Theta Pi, pointed out that although there is a nonchalance in the way students appear, there is a brewing effort underneath. The clothes are usually expensive, people will often spend a lot of money on skincare, and although you appear casual, there is an undercurrent of wealth and effort to appear attractive without necessarily trying. 

McDonald remarked that, “There’s a subculture of Sewanee students who like to appear very nonchalant with their wardrobe and hair and makeup that isn’t really there at state schools with my experience.” This nonchalance, although not necessarily as effortless as it may seem, in itself may be a really great thing. 

All three students interviewed remarked that their experiences at big state schools have been interesting, and not necessarily as comforting as their social experiences here at Sewanee. McDonald spoke about a party she attended at a large school: “It was chill weather, it was March, it wasn’t tube top and Abercrombie shorts weather, but that’s what all the girls were wearing. They were very tan, no one had hairy legs… and that’s something you’ll see in Sewanee all the time.” 

Jack Connors (C‘20), a member of Phi Gamma Delta, observed a similar vibe, “Guys wearing red and white polos, khaki shorts. It feels so impersonal to me, cause I like being able to, not really stand out, but some pizzazz! Some flare.”

Nelson had a similar experience at a large school, where she was criticized because of her outfit choice. Julia commented, “We were putting outfits on to go out and I had my Blundstones on. And all of them were like, ‘No. You are not wearing those boots out.’” Instead, these girls recommended Nelson change into heels for the night, so she could fit in with the culture.

Why is it that, at Sewanee, we can wear whatever we want? As you make your way around the Sigma Nu fraternity house on a typical Saturday evening, you may notice the crowd is littered with unusual characters. Some nights students will appear completely effortless, other nights decked out with fanny packs, glitter, beads, heart-shaped sunglasses, cowboy hats, tacky sweaters, hot-dog costumes, and even a flamingo suit. At formals you may notice that girls are sporting high-top tevas instead of heels and any given day kids can be walking around dressed as colonial men or covered in blue paint. 

Connors believes the culture is different because “We’re 1,600 hundred students who all live in pretty much twenty dorms. At other colleges we have 20,000 students living in hundreds and thousands of houses and apartments. We’re all really close and we don’t judge each other.” 

All of these students agreed that weekends at Sewanee are a great time, free from judgement, where students come together for great conversation and dancing. The lack of judgement in this close-knit community is something that manifests in many ways around campus. Nelson commented, “Everyone that comes to Sewanee has something special about them. They all have very similar values and a love for the environment and this place.”

So next Saturday night, look around and think about your own opinion. Why is Sewanee the way it is? Why can we be so weird here? Why can we be so ourselves here? And perhaps the next time you see a wacky outfit emerge out of the crowd, it’ll make you smile and remind you that this is quite a special place.