You don’t really know if you would do a thing until you are in the middle of doing it. This is, I believe, how we find OUT whether we do things at all. We are often the last to know.
The other night, a few friends and I decided to stop by a party of a friend of a friend. Turns out, the party had a theme: “Formal Wear or Underwear.”
There was one guy in a jacket and tie. I’ll let you guess what everyone else had on.
I looked down and remembered what I had under my jeans and t-shirt: A pair of $5 cotton briefs and a bra that I keep meaning to take out of rotation because it’s seen better days, but earlier that evening I was like, “Meh. Who’s gonna see it?”
My friends, who are fearless and fun, whipped off their tops in a flash (“Let’s do this!”). I could feel the blood pounding in my head as I tentatively peeled off my jeans.
I was having the sensation I get when I’m about to truly embarrass myself: I start to slip the bonds of cognition and self awareness. I flip on autopilot, leave the cockpit of my brain, crawl into coach, and stare out a window til it’s all over.
(Like that one time, years ago, when a voice over teacher had me sing to a stuffed bear so that I could find my true voice. I have blacked out the entire incident.)
I had nothing on but my t-shirt and my underwear, but had the presence of mind to put my shoes back on. Because for some reason, I felt weird going barefoot. I reasoned that I wasn’t really naked because if the sign outside a store read “no shirt, no shoes, no service,” I’d still be allowed in.
Still. Unless it’s 80 degrees outside and you’re near a body of water, it feels weird to walk around half naked in front of strangers.
What happened next was surprising: Nothing. No one said a thing or looked at me sideways. Simply because everyone was dressed exactly the same way.
Socially appropriate behavior is governed by a collective thermometer. We set it and adjust to it, whatever it is. In this case, it was set to “skivvies,” so no one, in fact, stood out. (With the exception of one man who was wearing a striped onesie. You can’t unsee that.)
I stayed for 30 minutes—long enough to prove to myself I was a good sport, and just before my mental captain roused from her nap. By 12:45 am, my ass and I were tired of hanging out.
Truth be told, after the initial thrill, this party was just as tedious as any other. Drunk girls dancing and singing too loud. Men making predictable conversation about politics or the viral video making the rounds. (Though I saw not one smart phone. I don’t know if that was party policy…or that no one had anywhere to put one.)
This experience might make me look like a fun, youthful party-goer who gives zero F’s, but that’s not true, either. I’m hardly a party animal. I was dead sober and desperate to be in bed already.
As mortifying as you might think it is to strip down to your undies in a roomful of strangers, it’s actually easier to follow suit and fit in, swim with the tide.
In a culture like ours, so obsessed with standing out, being different, independent, unique, it’s eye-opening to recognize how rarely we do that, how easy it is to get us to do a thing simply because other people are doing it.
It also calls to mind how many other times I gave into things, went along, made nice—just because it was easier. Regardless of how uncomfortable it made me.
Underwear parties are harmless and don’t matter in the grand scheme. But it’s worth noting that how we behave, treat each other, normalize things that aren’t normal (um, turn on the news), determines what we think is fair and normal and acceptable.
If I’m quick to go along with everyone else, that’s enough to make me question my actions. We all should.