May 26, 2024

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The Bama Rush documentary reminds us that clothes can send a message


Our nationwide fascination with #BamaRush It all started with OOTDs.

This is a day outfit for starters. For each University of Alabama sorority recruiting day in 2021, the undergraduate women showed off Golden Goose sneakers, Store Pants embellished shorts, and Kendra Scott necklaces. There were oversized wedges, flowy dresses, and “running home” Lululemon shorts; There were funny incidents and heartbreaking rejections. And we were the audience there all that long, until the Southern sorority students became sisters (although some never made it to show day).

#BamaRush became super popular in August 2021 and again in 2022 – hashtag It has been viewed over 2.6 billion times on TikTok. Suddenly, millions of eyes are on this previously obscure ritual that, despite the access that TikTok provides, remains mysterious. And we got our first taste of sorority life in the South through their very specific outfits.

The documentary “Bama Rush,” premieres on Max (formerly HBO Max) on Tuesday, and aims to demystify the corrupt yet heartbreaking hiring process we’ve lived vicariously on TikTok. (Max, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery. )

The sorority recruitment dress code is oddly abiding. Recruits’ clothing often conveys personality, distinction, and etiquette, among other qualities valued by sororities. The clothes are what drew us to #RushTok, and they are also tools used by the Rush to impress an unknown group of young women with an enviable social capital. They are often used by sororities to maintain the status quo.

Jill Frank/The New York Times/Redux

A prospective new member tours a sorority at the University of Alabama during recruiting week in 2022.

The Compatible Elements of Sorority Life Can Be Attractive at First: Writing for Racked, Stephanie Talmadge He said In 2017, “fraternities and sororities offered a quick fix to ‘Who am I? “Dilemma. Hurry up to the start of your new year and get a brand new poster before you even set foot inside the classroom.”

The young women in “Bama Rush” express similar reasons for wanting to join a sorority—sisterhood, belonging, and a strong sense of self. Meticulously picking outfits that express their passion for acceptance is just part of the four-year process of joining the family.

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And at the University of Alabama, Greek life is exceptionally popular—around it 36% of all studentsor 12,000 persons, belonging to one of the 69 Greek organizations affiliated with the school.

Recruitment focuses on similarity: At a huge Southern league like Bama, sorority members might wear matching jerseys and skateboarders for the first round and pull attire from the same color palette as recruitment continues.

For prospective new members, or PNMs, the Panhellenic League of the University of Alabama, too Creates guides on what to wear for each round so they can match up with the rest of their rushing set. These guides don’t often tell PNMs to avoid them Expose your midriff or wear thin spaghetti strapsbut current sorority members often do in comprehensive videos on what to recruit a sorority on TikTok and Youtube.

One of the Bama alumni who rushed He said to cut In 2021, even though these guides to employment attire aren’t “mandatory,” if it’s assumed that (eg) PNMs don’t appear (eg, show up in a shirt instead of a dress), be like, “It’s strange.”

The key to the perfect impulse look is to “blend in without going crazy,” says Trisha Addicks, a sorority recruiting coach who appeared in “Bama Rush.”

Addicks says in the documentary, during which she accompanied several sorority stores hoping to find suitable employment dress. “You don’t want to give the sorority a reason to hurt you.”

Jill Frank/The New York Times/Redux

A student flaunts her bracelet during the University of Alabama 2022 recruitment.

So why focus on dress? Historically, according to studies and interviews with sorority members during the 20th and 21st centuries, sororities chose pledge chapters with the goal of ascending or maintaining their place within the Greek level system, an arbitrary and informal arrangement of sororities and fraternities based primarily on the physical attractiveness of their members. (Members of an active sorority at the University of Alabama told Rachel Fleet, director of “Bama Rush,” that the caste system, whether they believed in its merits, was determined by the male fraternity.)

Publicly judging each other in terms of male consent was a “central theme” among sorority members who participated in a study throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, according to researchers Simon Izba Landa and Barbara J. Compare 2021 Between studies from the mid-1970s to the present day. Now, as then, they wrote, “a woman’s appearance and perceived sociability are still crucial to her invitation to the sorority.”

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Michelle LeBianca Carter/Tuscaloosa News/Associated Press

Potential new sorority members share a recruiting at the University of Alabama in 2012, a full decade before “Bama Rush” was filmed.

Ispa-Landa, associate professor of sociology at Northwestern University, too interview Sorority members at a highly selective no-name college. She said in a phone interview that the members there “look down” on southern female students.

But these Greek organizations also emphasized clothing and style during the recruitment process, Ispa-Landa said: When they would take coats from the PNMs, they would secretly check the labels to find the brands and designers. Class connotations, she said, were another way of evaluating young women seeking membership.

“They had other ways of using clothing to exclude and include,” said Espa Landa.

Elite university sororities share the same goals as Southern sororities: to build an pledge class of traditionally attractive young women with ambition who will raise their status on campus.

“I think a lot of the dress code, the formal and informal dress code, that’s part of sorority recruiting has to do with wanting to keep the group attractive to these high-status men—the men of the fraternity,” said Espa Landa.

Even when a PNM does everything “right” on the surface—sticking to certain types of groups and discussing innocuous topics while recruiting—it may not be enough.

Elizabeth Bronwyn Boyd, author of Southern Beauty: Race, Ritual, and Memory in the Modern South, states in the documentary that recruiting is, essentially, “the organization of people and groups of people into levels of power, status, and prestige.”

She says the sorority rush is “a proving ground for the competitive femininity and contemporary performance of Southern belle.” As a result, many of the racist elements of recruiting remain to this day. This was evident in Bama #RushTok, where most of the “main characters” were blonde, white, and skinny. In 2021, said one of the biracial #RushTok stars been dropped from every sorority before she received an offer despite her immense popularity with viewers.

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Hellenic sororities have been predominantly white since their founding in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when it was very rare for black women to be admitted to a predominantly white university. But segregation persisted well after black students began attending these schools, Texas Christian University professor Charlotte Hough books For The Washington Post in 2020.

Black students would go on to form Greek organizations at both Howard University, HBCU, and predominantly white universities. These historically black fraternities and sororities are known as “divine ninth” Nor do they operate within the same system as historically white fraternities and sororities.

Historically, the white sororities at the University of Alabama weren’t even formal Season Until 2013, after the Crimson White student paper revealed that some organizations actively avoided bidding to Black PNMs.

Courtesy of Max

Holiday, a sophomore at the University of Alabama, was dropped from her sorority as a freshman.

Only two out of four people interviewed for “Bama Rush” went on to join sororities. One subject, who had been “dropped out” in the first year of her undergraduate organization, chose not to participate in the recruitment again, and another subject, tired of the artificiality of the process, dropped out before she completed the recruitment. (It was PNM who went shopping with Addicks; she later said that none of the dresses she tried on had the feel of her.)

Going through the recruitment process requires a compatibility most young women are likely familiar with to figure out who they are, which is probably why the process at schools like the University of Alabama is still so popular. But Espa-Landa said many sororities are disappointed when the idealized picture of Greek life presented in the conscription fades away.

“The women in my sample were really excited and hopeful to join,” she said. “But once they joined, they discovered a lot of things that made them really unhappy. The rush of excitement can kind of mask dark things in some ways.”