Style and Attire of Greek Events: 1980s vs. Today
Dale Miller, Avery Fortenberry, Lizzie Mentz and Nora Atkins Ward
This year, 2017, marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Greek life on Louisiana State University’s campus. Over 5,000 students, including ourselves, are active members of sororities and fraternities on campus. Over the 150 years, Greek life has remained much of the same but has also witnessed change over the years. In particular, the style and attire worn by Greeks to their social events of exchanges, parties, and formals has shifted with the fashion trends, atmosphere of the time, and personality of the Greeks from the 1980s to today.
Exchanges are themed social gatherings between fraternities and sororities. They have been very prevalent in LSU’s Greek life for many years. Exchanges are one of the many benefits of being a part of a Greek organization. It is a great opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. Today the social chairs for the fraternity and sorority meet up a few days before and collaborate on a fun theme for the event. The fraternities will usually rent out a bar in Tigerland for the night. Everyone dresses up accordingly with the theme and meets up at the bar. In the 80’s however, the exchanges were held at the fraternity houses and the theme was usually decided much further in advance than it is today. After conducting research and examining pictures from the Gumbo, LSU’s
yearbook, we discovered that more students in the 80’s attended and actively participated in dressing up for their exchanges than they do today. In the 1980s exchange photos, we noticed in almost every picture that everyone in attendance wore relevant clothes and costumes for their decided themes. For example, in Figure 2: Fiji and KD Cowboys and Indians Exchange 1985, you can see that everyone is participating. All the girls are dressed up as cowboys with their plaid shirts and cowboy hats. In addition, you can see even one girl in the front brought a prop gun to complete her costume; however, today that wouldn’t be allowed as there are more rules and regulations for exchanges, appropriate costumes, and themes we can have. Greek life in the 80’s was not as restricted as it is today. Many of the themes that they used back then are not allowed today due to their offensive content or context. Now a day, all exchange themes must be approved beforehand by Greek advisors. Nevertheless, not everything has changed. To this day we still use some of the same theme ideas that they did in the 80’s. For example, we have exchanges such as Pajamas, TV shows, pop-culture trends, and Hawaiian/island theme. Despite changes over the years, exchanges are still fun themed nights for Greeks to meet another and make great college memories.
Another focal point in analyzing the shifts in the style of clothing worn by Greeks is the annual fraternity themed parties like one captured in Figure 1: Fiji Islander Party 1987. Although there are many themes that remain consistent since the 80s, the approach to dressing the part has changed. A significant party theme that was first introduced to LSU in the 80s is the toga theme as seen in Figure 3: Sigma Chi Toga Party 1980, after the
premiere of the movie Animal House. Today, this theme is still used by fraternities but their approach has stretched. The girls wear anything that resembles a toga, like in Figure 4: AGR Toga Party 2015, Madeleine and Hailey, both LSU sorority members, are wearing blue and purple togas instead of the classic white toga to the fraternity party in 2015. The shift in approach might lie in what we consider an acceptable and fashionable or trendy costume; back in the 80s it would appear too edgy or maybe even progressive if someone wore a blue toga instead of white. When there was not a descriptive theme for the party, Charles Mentz said, “There was an unofficial uniform when we dressed for a lot of these parties” (Mentz). The “unofficial uniform”, seen in Figure 5: Laid Back Party 1987, consisted of khaki shorts, a Lacoste alligator shirt, and Sperry Top-Siders. Before Ralph
Lauren’s classic Polo shirts became popular, it was Lacoste first that everyone wore. For the women, it was about the same but instead of a polo shirt, they wore a sleeveless top or casual blouse, but still rocked the Sperry’s. Today, going to these parties, the guys often wear a more casual polo shirt, sports jersey, or even a t-shirt with khaki shorts paired with sneakers instead of Top-Siders. The shirts are often over-sized and less formal compared to the more fitted shirts guys wore in the 80s. The girls today can range anything from jean shorts to skirts to day dresses. There is still somewhat of an unofficial uniform for girls but the variety and options has expanded a lot. Depending on the bottoms worn, the shoes can change too; from sandals to wedges or platforms depending on the person. The costume aspect of today’s parties has expanded and become more acceptable to improvise where the 80s seemed to remain consistent to the themes when dressing up. As for the parties without themes today, depending on the type or group of people, their outfits can vary
from casual to dressy; whereas in the 80s everyone dressed up to the same level and kept it consistent.
The final Greek event which exhibits the similarities and differences of the styles and attire from the 1980s to modern times is Semi-Formals and Formals. Today at LSU, each Greek sorority and fraternity has one semi and one formal each year. At these events, the girls and boys dress in formal attire and usually rent out an upscale club or venue to hold the event. The girls at semi typically wear a cocktail dress with heels and the boys wear a tux or sport coat. At formal, the girls wear gowns and are a bit more elegant than at semi, while the boys attire typically does not change. At Chi Omega’s formal, the freshmen are presented every year as new member. They are escorted by their fathers who are also in formal attire. For the girls first formal, they must wear white gowns with
white gloves to be presented. They also carry a white rose as a symbol of their sorority. The attire is similar to what a debutant might wear to their presentation. This presentation is an important part of Chi Omega’s tradition, so the attire is a crucial part of the event. Over the years, this dress code and tradition has generally remained the same. Although, the style has changed quite a bit. As seen in Figure 6: Chi Omega Formal 1985, the girls in the 1980’s wore taffeta dresses, which were dresses that were big in size from the waist down and had big sleeves. They also styled themselves differently with bigger hair with a lot of make-up and large pieces of jewelry. Another fad of this time were candies, which were slide-heels that are generally not as elegant as the heels worn today. During this time, the boys generally wore the same attire as today, a nice tux and a tie. Overtime, the style for the events has generally become more simple and elegant, but the formal dress code has remained the same.
As times changes so do styles, trends, and norms, which is what we found from comparing Greek event from the 1980s to today. In generally, Greek events of the 1980s were more extravagant in size, theme, and participation by Greeks. Today, Greeks are more laid back and display their individual style and personality through their outfit choices unlike the uniformity of style in the 1980s. Despite styles and events changing over the 150 years, the fun Greeks have at their event, on campus, and with each other has not.
AGR Toga Party 2015. Lizzie Mentz, 2015. Lizzie Mentz Photo Collection. 29 Nov. 2017.
Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College, “Gumbo Yearbook, Class of 1985” (1985). Gumbo Yearbook. 85. pp. 346-385.
Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, “Gumbo Yearbook, Class of 1987” (1987). Gumbo Yearbook. 87. pp. 401.
Mentz, Charles. Personal Interview. 17 Nov. 2017.
Philips, Stephanie. Personal Interview. 15 Nov. 2017.
Sigma Chi Toga Party 1980. Charles Mentz, Sept. 1980. Mentz Family Photo Collection. 21 Nov.