Costume parties, scavenger hunts, holiday parties, you name it. High WASPs like parties with themes.
When I was at Princeton, my sophomore year I lived with 3 roommates in a 4th floor quad at the top of many, many stairs. A gray stone dormitory. With turrets. At Christmas, we decided to give a party. We sent out invitations. In this case, they were just Xeroxed, handed out everywhere on the gray stone paths of the university. Under arches. In the invitations, we stressed that the party would involve mistletoe, Christmas carols, and punch. We said, dress for the occasion.
And, in 1974, they did. Our room was full all night. Carols were sung, punch was drunk. I can only imagine what a photo of that party might look like now, tall boys with floppy ’70s hair wearing sports coats they had bought back home in Atlanta or Houston or New York, clean-faced girls with Echo scarves around our necks, a Cartier tank watch we got for our 18th birthdays, our one pair of high heels, intoxicated, crowded, worried, giddy, privileged. Dirty carpet. Mistletoe in the doorway. Red ribbons.
That Easter the roommates decided to give another party. Only this time, with hats. The invitation was quite ironic. We collected more girls, 10 of us in all, to host the event. We took a picture of all of us outside on one of the gray stone balconies, with parapet. In hats. And clothes of course. This was 1975 after all. Again we distributed invitations far and wide.
This time the room was full, but this time so was the narrow stairway. All the way to the ground level and out the heavy wooden dormitory door. Everyone in hats.
Lest you think this love of themes was college student foolery only, my mother was, in the 21st century mind you, the chairperson of the volunteer board for one of Santa Barbara’s cultural institutions. She ran the annual fundraiser. The party? A scavenger hunt. It was a huge success.
I think the High WASP effort spent on getting it right means that when someone says be silly, we take advantage. Maybe themes were another sanctioned way to step outside the code. To behave in ways that we might not otherwise consider. I say were because, as I have said before, our original species is a dying breed. The full set of generational and geographical permutations is not yet known. I’m writing an elegy, a celebration of what I valued, and an attempted debunking of everything else. We might or might not wonder why.