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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

When A Dream Becomes a Theme: The Production of Dartmouth’s Themed Parties

Dartmouth social chairs and other party planners discuss the intricacies of planning and throwing themed events on campus.

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If you noticed a swarm of girls in fur coats and black dresses hightailing toward Theta Delta Chi fraternity two weekends ago, you’re not going crazy. That night, TDX hosted their Mafia-themed semi-formal, and the majority of attendees committed to a Sopranos-esque style. 

This Mafia party was just one of many themed events that occur at Dartmouth all the time. From Star Wars to mob wives, semis, tails and other events often revolve around one central theme.

But these events take time to plan. In many Greek houses and other organizations that host events, this responsibility falls under the purview of social chairs or “socials,” members of the Greek house who plan and organize social events for that group. 

Isabelle Dady ’24, a social chair for APhi, ran for the position largely due to the influence of upperclassmen, including her “big” — an assigned upperclassmen mentor — who inspired her to become more involved in event planning.

Dady said the process for developing APhi’s social calendar begins about a month before the start of a given term. According to her, APhi typically spearheads the coordination efforts with fraternity social chairs. 

“We basically just reach out to the different frat socials, and we make a draft [of an] ideal social calendar and give the boys the dates, and they say which ones work,” she said.  

She explained that themes for tails — a term short for cocktails that refers to hosted events that typically occur on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday — are easier to establish, while semis require more communication. Dady also said that there is often some debate amongst the different socials regarding semi themes, with sororities usually pushing for more involved themes and frats preferring simpler ones. 

According to her, they typically end up compromising in the event of disagreement, either tweaking the theme to meet in the middle or settling on different commitment levels in terms of dressing up or not.

David Lim ’24, a Beta Alpha Omega fraternity social chair, explained that students sometimes have disagreements about certain aspects of an event, like whether they would want a band or a DJ. However, Lim noted that these disputes often come down to availability and are usually resolved easily. He added that having multiple social chairs helps ease the process for everyone.

“The role itself isn’t that difficult to manage because there are usually multiple people who are doing it,” Lim said. “And, of course, you have other people in other fraternities and sororities that are also doing the same thing … People spread the load out. When that happens, it all kind of works out.”

When asked about the evolution of semi themes over the years, Dady shared that socials want to prioritize creativity by experimenting with new concepts and giving more notice so that attendees can plan their outfits and find costumes in advance. For instance, a Roman Empire theme in the fall proved to be a big hit after two weeks of notice were given, and attendees ordered costumes beforehand.

David Katz ’24, a social chair at Panarchy — an undergraduate society that does not participate in the Greek Leadership Council  — emphasized how Panarchy takes its themes seriously. According to Katz, ideas for themes come from within the house, and members vote for specific parties at their meetings.

“I feel like the best theme that we’ve had in my time was Denver International Airport … because of all the conspiracy theories that surround it,” Katz said. “It was a really crazy night. I loved my outfit … I made a paper mache horse head that’s really cool … and I still have it.”

Not all social events have to take place on campus, though. Tommy Bevevino ’24 hosts frequently at his off-campus house on School Street. Bevevino is also a big fan of unorthodox themes, such as his house’s recent “pickle party,” where they made a large number of pickles to be consumed at the party and encouraged goers to dress in pickle-themed attire. 

“It was a roaring success,” he said. “I think it’s fun to throw events that people find interesting. There’s just an inherent joy in creating something that wasn’t there previously and that people like.” 

As a space focused on the arts, Panarchy leans toward creativity as well — their themes often promote costumes made by hand. For instance, Katz has created multiple outfits for events including a sewn skirt, which is still on display in their room.

Thinking about Panarchy as a collective, Katz stated that “there’s a certain liberation that can [only] happen [here]. And I’ve been to every … big scene on campus … before I really committed to this space.”

Dartmouth is also known for its traditions. Dady noted that classic events in Greek spaces such as “Leather and Lace” — where attendees wear leather and lace-material clothes — and “White Lies” — where attendees wear shirts with “little white lies” written on them — always produce a large turnout. With the latter, APhi provides blank T-shirts, which makes it easy to comply with the theme.

Lim offered up some other classic examples. 

“We’ll do … ABC, which is anything but clothes … People go hard on those and come up with creative ways [to] dress for the theme,” he said. “Rumble in the Jungle is always fun … [It’s] a jungle theme where people wear leopard print or something like that. We’ve done a Barbie semi, denim on denim … There are a lot of ideas that people throw out.”

Although Greek Houses and other spaces can make hosting these types of themes easier, an off-campus house, according to Bevevino, has benefits as well.

“You get really interesting groups that form … like someone from my freshman year writing class talking to this person from my trip,” he said. “It’s a really interesting synthesis that happens when you have these parties at an unconventional social space. You can also do a lot more in your own house.”

Considering the multifaceted nature of theme development, the final question, perhaps, is why? What prompts party planners to go the extra mile?

“I think the reason that every party has a theme at Dartmouth is that people remember the themed parties the most. [It’s] … an effort to be memorable. And I think it adds an extra layer of fun or excitement to a social scene,” Bevevino said.  “It … is pretty interesting to dress up in my weird dress that I found and put on eyeliner and go to Blue Ball at [Bones Gate fraternity].”

When it comes to Dartmouth parties, memorability, imagination and good, old-fashioned fun reign supreme, regardless of location. These concepts often coalesce in a distinctive theme, underscoring campus trends of individuality and expressivity, which epitomize Dartmouth as a whole.

But ultimately, while the success of the party mostly rests on the organizers, every person that attends has a role to play.

“Our responsibility is for people to have fun,” Dady concluded. “[But] it’s so much more fun if everyone buys in.”

Correction Appended (Feb. 20, 6:33 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly listed Alpha Phi as a co-host of the Mafia-themed, semi-formal hosted at TDX. Alpha Phi was not in fact a host, and this has been updated accordingly.