Greek-Chic: The business of membership fashion

The GW campus is a veritable playground for fashion conformists. Whether it’s something as small as a yellow “Livestrong” bracelet, something as loud as a “Four More Years!” T-shirt, or something as carefully put together as disheveled hair underneath a trucker hat, GW students dress to make a statement. Using H Street as their catwalk, they make it known where they belong on campus.

As another chilly D.C. fall begins, North Face fleeces emerge from dusty suitcases and Uggs begin to make sense once again, and so begins sorority rush-Foggy Bottom’s own “fashion week,” launching the very latest in communal attire. With a new class of eager young recruits to dress, sororities work each year to outdo themselves with smarter and sassier garb to make sure they make their presence known at GW.

Pledges, unable in some sororities to wear their official letters before formal initiation, get their first taste of being a sorority girl at GW with T-shirts they receive on bid day. These shirts, hugely anticipated by Greeks and non-Greeks alike, are a welcome to the new members and a “Hi, we’re still here!” to the rest of the campus. Naturally, a lot of thought goes into what they are going to say and what that is going to mean.

Some choose to manipulate current trends in their designs. For instance, Sigma Delta Tau chose to go camouflage, Alpha Delta Pi chose to allude to their diamond symbol by asking, “Where is your bling?” and Alpha Epsilon Phi opted to imitate the oh-so-popular Urban Outfitters T-shirts by proudly proclaiming, “Everyone wants to be an AEPhi girl.” Others choose to use their T-shirts as a kind of cotton wink – using playful and clever slogans to distinguish themselves. Who knew Delta Gamma also stood for “Damn Gorgeous?”

Although being creative and unique is certainly on the top of their list, the sorority’s main priority is to represent themselves well. Lindsay Roshkind, president of Sigma Kappa, said the shirts “should represent what the entire sorority has to say,” adding that they also have to take into consideration that they are not only representing themselves at GW, but their national chapter as well.

Bid day T-shirts, although a big deal, are by no means the only shirts made during the year. Eager to commemorate parties and advertise philanthropic endeavors, sororities seem to make T-shirts whenever possible. Roshkind said Sigma Kappa budgeted for at least three T-shirts this semester alone, adding that they have even created the title of “T-shirt Chair” to accommodate their habit.

Despite the stereotypes, sorority girls don’t spend the majority of their time doing arts and crafts and, in fact, are not the ones making these shirts. Although they are designed by the sororities themselves, they buy them from different Greek-letter apparel companies, mostly online. In response to the high demand for customized event T-shirts, Web sites like Greek101.com, Fratrow.com and Bluecotton.com offer “build your own T-shirt” options.

Some Web sites strictly handle group orders in order to be able to accommodate the large demand for event shirts. Bluecotton.com, Sigma Kappa’s Web site of choice for ordering their event shirts, just started accepting individual orders, and Greek-house.com, currently only accepting individual orders, is working on a way to be able to supply group orders because of the large amount of business it draws in.

The Web sites offer a lot more than just T-shirts – everything from hair ribbons to Greek-letter apparel for dogs can be purchased there. Greeks in general have created a huge industry in their demand for personalized Greek-letter wear.

“Sorority girls don’t just stop at shirts,” said Taj Schaffnit, a spokesman for Greek-house.com. “Other popular items are ‘yoga pants,’ bags, and flip-flops.”

At GW, sorority and fraternity sweatshirts seem to be almost as prevalent on campus as the always-fashionable George Washington University sweatshirts-making one think that maybe the novelty “College” shirts made popular in “Animal House” could be equally as poignant if they read “Sorority” or “Fraternity.”

In the true spirit of any GW student trying to represent themselves in the chaotic sea of fashion-forward and opinionated apparel, sorority fashion is trying to make its own statement. A community by definition, the notion of Greek-letter fashion is conformist by nature. What’s the rest of our excuses for buying into the Puma, Louis Vuitton or Abercrombie and Fitch clubs? So the next time you see what may look like insignificant squiggles embroidered on a T-shirt, remember that they represent decades of community, friendship, unmatched philanthropic endeavor and capitalism at its finest.

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