Dressing up means expressing yourself

As I looked around my friend’s East Coast dorm room, something caught my eye — or rather, the absence of something. It was an item that I had taken for granted, an item that I presumed every college student — at least, female college student — was in possession of.

A costume box.

Apparently party boxes ran next to none at my friend’s frigid New England university, and I soon realized that USC was rare in its abundance of themed parties permeating our nightlife.

Frat parties, sorority invites, even small kickbacks at Gateway all have their themes. After all, isn’t it way more fun to dress up in some ridiculous costume than to try too hard to look “hot”?

As we all know by now, partying isn’t all the school has to offer: USC is an excellent university with above par academics and sports. But our social lives are a big part of our college experience, so it’s important to think about how we portray ourselves when we go out, especially to themed parties. Other people can form an opinion about us at the drop of a hat, after all, and a costume can speak volumes.

Every time a big themed party rolls around, I promise myself that I’ll have a really kick-ass costume — something that makes everyone stop in their tracks and say, “Girl, you are hilarious!”

Unfortunately, I always leave it until the last minute and end up going as some kind of mouse/cat/devil of some sort.

But when I walk out and look around, I feel like I’ve been dropped into the Twilight Zone of promiscious college kids. I know in Mean Girls they say that Halloween is the one day of the year that you can dress like a slut and no one will care, but that’s not really true. Those people who are saying that you look beautiful? There’s a good chance they’re lying — you probably look ridiculous.

(On that note, when did it become OK for girls to dress up as Sexy Bert and Ernie? It’s not OK. It will never be OK. Leave puppets/cartoons/animals alone. They’re supposed to be for kids! And kids are immediately an off-limits topic with regard to the word “sexy.”)

There are ways to look attractive without stooping for the same old “sexy” strategy. The main problem that people run into is buying their costumes from an actual costume place: Don’t do it. That police woman costume looks horrible and cheap, not to mention unoriginal; instead, hit up a thrift store or the Salvation Army to put together an outfit that looks great and will actually impress. American Apparel even offers a booklet that shows you what pieces to buy to create your dream costume. Pretty ballerina? Check. The elements? Check. A group of highlighters? Check. Over-the-top sexiness doesn’t make you the coolest girl in the room, it just makes you seem a bit desperate.

And guys: Just because you spend eight hours at the gym consuming Jacked all day doesn’t mean that we want to see your ripped abs all the time. Leave something to the imagination. I’m sure I’m not the only one who believes that sexiness constitutes more than baring it all in a narcissistic sort of way (it’s even worse when you don’t have the body to pull it off — there’s nothing wrong with dressing for your body type).

Yet sexy isn’t the only way that you can be offensive. You can just be plain offensive in your attire. Around the world party? Maybe don’t dress up as a Geisha: Race is a tricky issue, and it’s not up to you to show the world how tolerant you are by dressing up in stereotypical costumes. We all like the idea of cowboys and indians and donning a cool ninja costume, but we forget about all of the awkward that can ruin the fun. And though dressing up as Jesus, a nun or a priest cracks up a lot of people — including me — it is also incredibly hurtful to many. Sacrificing the happiness of others to get a laugh is not the way to go.

Instead, try and find a way to get some laughs without going too far. A friend decided to put an Airhead on her forehead and be an “air head.” Another decided to go as the little kid from Up and he couldn’t keep the girls off of him. Ted? Instant classic. Trust me, people will respond more to a clever costume than anything else.

But then there’s the problem of over/under dressing. You’re supposed to be overdressed, but this isn’t the real world. In college, nothing is worse than being overdressed. Show up to a formal invite in a Sunday brunch shirt? Fine. Show up to a casual party looking like you are heading to a club in Vegas? Not fine. If you want to look like a freshman going to their first party, then by all means, dress up hardcore. If you want to look like you know what you’re doing, however, take it a bit easy. I’m not saying give up on all accounts (as in, don’t be like me and wear sweats to the 9-0), but you should be able to show that you’re a cool, interesting person without limping in heels or constantly loosening a tie.

So what have we learned here? You can look attractive without being crazy promiscious, you can be funny without being offensive and being overdressed is the equivalent of walking around with a spotlight saying “See, I have no life, it took me three hours to get ready!”

True “hotness” is achieved through effortless endeavors. Notice Scarlett Johannsen or Mila Kunis or Chris Hemsworth or Ryan Gosling. They’re constantly voted the sexiest people alive because it’s quite obvious that they simply don’t give a damn. Desperation is a turn-off. Instead, try to be the best you that you can be. Themed parties are a time to have some fun, not to spend too much time worrying about sex appeal.

And however you decide to dress to go out, make sure that it’s something you’re not going to regret later on. Though your memories of the night may be a bit hazy, those Facebook photos will live forever, for better or worse.