When Jezebel published a leaked email detailing the strict (or "batshit," as Jez called them) beauty and fashion rules that the University of Southern California’s Alpha Chi Omega chapter imposes on its members, more than a few friends sent me a link.
“Ha ha, is this what it was like?” asked several who had somehow escaped the pull of Greek Life at school. “Are the girls really this crazy?” The answer: yes and no.
As an 18-year-old who traveled out of state for school, I was eager to make friends and get involved on campus. Sorority life seemed like an easy route to fitting in.
Going through my first “Rush Week,” I was stunned. These events are huge, expensive, and extravagant affairs, but everything dulled in comparison to the girls themselves.
I’ve been surrounded by pretty women my whole life, but sorority life was a new level. Every girl seemed bred to perfection. As a group they seemed to move in perfectly groomed unison.
It wasn’t until I was fully inundated into the sorority lifestyle that I understood the secrets and illusions.
Sorority girls take appearances seriously. Half their rules of social etiquette come down to, “Don’t embarrass us.” Sorority girls don’t dance on tables, they don’t sloppily make out in public, they don’t smoke standing up, they don’t do drugs, they don’t drink alcohol while wearing their Greek letters, and they don’t get in trouble.
For official sorority events (things like pledging ceremonies, not parties), standards of decorum were strictly upheld. You should be able to bend over in your dress without fear, but you should never bend over. Hair should be clean, brushed, and worn either down or half up--never in a ponytail or bun.
As far as makeup, the emphasis was on looking “young and natural.” Dark eye makeup or bold lip colors were off limits. (A friend was once instructed to rinse off her purple lipstick before a gathering.) Blemishes were to be covered, but don’t wear too much foundation. If you had tattoos, cover them. Piercings other than earrings were frowned upon, but allowed so long as they were small. Your armpits and legs were to be free of hair, of course.
Some additional "rules":
- No scrunchies
- Bobby pins must match the color of your hair
- Nude pantyhose were encouraged if you had bruises on your legs
- No contacts that change the color of your eyes
- No dangly earrings or choker necklaces
- Nothing suggesting profanity or promiscuity
We were also encouraged to hit up the tanning salons regularly to keep a “healthy glow.” Never mind the fact that our sorority worked hand-in-hand with philanthropies aimed towards helping cancer victims. We even got a “Greek discount” at one of the local salons.
Sorority life was uniquely bizarre and sometimes arbitrarily strict, but it was mostly pleasant. The girls got along with each other, as much as any group of several hundred girls can. Unlike what movies would have you believe, life within the sorority house was neither an endless stream of petty squabbles nor a never-ending sexy pillow-fight.
Rather, it was incredibly laid-back. Girls split cartons of ice cream and watched Stepbrothers. We did each others’ nails and bonded over lipsticks. We studied for next week’s finals. We stressed about boys. It was a weird, imperfect utopia of sisterhood in which you could yell from the toilet seat that you needed a tampon and one would promptly be passed under the stall door.
Ultimately, though, sorority life wasn’t for me. The weirdly restrictive beauty and life rules, as well as the high cost of membership (which, for me, amounted to well over a thousand dollars a semester, on top of tuition and housing) turned me off and I ended up leaving the sorority after only two years. Once outside the Greek world, I was able to experiment: I dyed my hair green, I got a tattoo, I danced on a couple tables.
But I try not to mock the girls who loved and lived for it. Sororities annually raise millions of dollars toward a variety of worthy causes, from cancer research to poverty to literacy. In a world that encourages female rivalry, sororities are a place where women can bond. Strict academic guidelines are upheld and Greek groups tend to have high average GPAs.
I don’t have bitter feelings about my former life as a sorority sister--life is just more fun with bold lip colors.
- Were you a member of a sorority in college?
- Did your sorority have beauty and fashion rules, written or unwritten?
Cover image: © 2008 - Columbia Pictures, Relativity Media, Happy Madison Productions.