Aside from the two crude accessories, the girl was dressed like many people at our school. She wore a flower dress that was cut short above the knees and vintage leather boots. The crew drew nearer. Their leader, the murder nymph, was swaying.
Suddenly I understood. The triangle was an entourage, some sick vaudeville horror parade dedicated to keeping this poor girl standing and celebrate her would-be queerness. She was outstandingly drunk. The followers weren’t individuals. They resembled more a dull funeral procession or the black waste that will sometimes shamelessly ejaculate from Hill House’s roof.
The group spread throughout the party but acknowledged no one; it suited them to linger as ghosts, a paraparty phenomenon. We indulged their presence for a moment, felt both uncomfortable and unimpressed, and then went back to drinking.
The scene haunts me. Recently, I’ve thought that it resonates not in its strangeness, but in its failure as a statement and likeness to a widespread, kitty-nihilistic, fashion trend at Sarah Lawrence.
There is no neutral fashion. Conscious or unconscious, there is a motive behind what people wear. A conscious motive suggests a person’s desire to exorcise control over their identity within their social sphere. It can succeed or fail.
A person who claims no motive is simply unconsciously conceding to cultural dress norms. This is not necessarily a bad thing. These peoples’ personalities, their ways of engaging, can certainly trump the impact of the clothes they wear. They can also transform our perspective on the clothes, resulting in another sort of fashion statement.
Conscious choices can defy, they can be striking stabs at society, mediocrity, at reason, at logicality. They can celebrate the individual. But certain choices, like the hockey mask, fail miserably. They reek of desperation and forced movement bordering on the obscene.
The hockey mask may seem like defiance. The person who wears it probably thinks they’re defying something. The followers (a bloated pile of garbage bags) may even think they’re in the presence of something radical. But they’re not.
I applaud the brave girl in a hockey mask at her prep school, image-fucking the teenage whores, but Sarah Lawrence does not cringe at the extreme. We are very strange and it’s admirable to push our strangeness outward. But to push the limits of extremity inward, mocking our social life, is a definite blunder that many people practice, probably without knowing it.
The girl in the hockey mask wanders stupidly around, speaking to no one, dragging her pitchfork. Everything about her says, “I don’t care.”
But the truth is she cares very much. On some level, she knows that we are not so easily impressed. Shortchanging the power of defiance, she’s really expressing an immense insecurity. The mask is a defense.
This girl feels horribly inadequate. The fashion feigns I don’t give a fuck but screams, “fucking help me!”
The mask is one glaring example of failure, but there are more. Gigantic ratty fur coats and wilted black hats and cigarettes. Girls and boys with burlesque, joker make-up and glitter. Trios that have matching flowers in their hair. Heads shaved on one side, or a single lock that hangs awkwardly from a bald scalp—in themselves these fashions are fine.
But many people who dress this way at our school enter social situations and have no further idea of what to do with themselves. They say, “Well, I dressed up? Here I am!” and like to think that “dressing up” is enough.
Fashion isn’t an end or a solution. It has the potential to be a subversive expression (a sort of performative art), and a means to self-empowerment. But at Sarah Lawrence, it’s so often used as a crutch, an empty “fuck you,” a dreary proclamation that says, “I did this because I’m scared of everything, and don’t know how to do anything else.” Ideally, a school like ours would redefine fashion with wild, innovative trends in a vibrant social atmosphere. Instead, we drunkenly pose in drag and vintage for photos we stare at later, searching for a creativity that we don’t possess.