Despite the disgustingly fantastic weather forecast for this week, we are undoubtedly in the mystical and evanescent season of “winter.” While the temperature during the day has been in the low to mid 70s (just warm enough to evoke misery from those of us gazing miserably out the window of Davidson), it certainly cools down a bit after the sunset. This past weekend the nighttime temperatures stooped to the high 40s and low 50s, certainly low enough to warrant use of a jacket, sweater and perhaps more obviously, pants. For some reason, however, a trip into I.V. on a brisk Saturday night will leave you witness to 10s and 20s of bare legs, freezing shoulders, practically shivering stomachs and the occasional frostbitten ass cheek.
Young women tremble their ways into houses and apartments, braving the cold weather in clothing that cannot in any way be comfortable (no matter how thick their Russian jackets may be). This strange practice, and my own partaking in it, left me wondering: Why do we deny our primal need for insulated North Face jackets in favor of leaving our bodies vulnerable and exposed to such atrocities as five mph wind? And, following my mom’s adamant belief that cold weather equals pneumonia, why do we risk sickness during midterm season instead of ensuring our good health and going out with jeans and boots? Seeing as our male counterparts look perfectly cozy in jeans and *gasp* long-sleeves, is this a matter of gender expectations/norms? Or is it simply a woman’s desire to feel attractive and express herself that prompts this choice in apparel (or lack thereof)?
The simplest answer may be that parties are just warm once you’re inside. The body heat of 30 strangers in close proximity to you, the dancing and the sweaty panic you endure when one of your friends disappears into a corner all provide natural insulation that would make a jacket and jeans as unbearable as shorts and a tank top in the winter. But for many young women, especially those in the dorms, who must venture so much as two miles in the cold to reach their destinations in I.V., there seems to be something else influencing their decisions in what to wear.
One possibility may be that women unfortunately feel an expectation, or even obligation, to be more exposed when heading into a frat party. I’ve heard it vocalized weekend after weekend that my peers “feel bad” about going into frats free of charge and feel that they must compensate the brothers of the frat with more bare skin and cleavage than is comfortable. Because they often indiscriminately and warmly (creepily) welcome girls into their parties, frats are seen by some women as charitable and deserving of some form of repayment for their troubles. This logic strangely acknowledges and reluctantly complies with the reality that frats invite women and reject men into their houses for their own personal pleasure and contributes to a culture of commodification of women.
The other possibility is that women want to dress skimpily, for a variety of reasons ranging from the desire to hook up or receive attention and to simply express oneself through fashion. Given the undeniable hookup culture prevalent in college and epitomized here in Isla Vista, it’s certainly an objective to hook up at a party, and a perfectly justified one at that. While there are plenty of issues of patriarchy inherent in why women feel more attractive in a revealing outfit (men shaping our perceptions of beauty, for example), there is no shame in dressing in a way that makes one feel sexier and doing so to increase one’s chances of hooking up.
Even if a woman braves the cold and risks sickness to receive attention from the attendees of a party, she cannot be blamed for seeking the sexual attention of her peers in a generation in which self-esteem and feelings of self-worth are so dependent on the validation of others (Instagram likes, retweets, etc). Both men and women are susceptible to growing a dependence on compliments and drunken kisses to boost their self-esteems, unhealthy as it may be. While it is unfortunate and flawed that women feel they won’t receive said attention if they dress comfortably and appropriately for the weather, it is also unfortunate and flawed that women get berated for adhering to the norms of the society they’ve been raised in. And other women, of course, dress in more revealing clothing because it is a form of self-expression. I know I was dazzled by the array of tasteful black dresses, Spandex and bandeaus that ultimately came together to form unique and festive outfits.