Just as fashion has its “haute couture,” food has its own “haute nourriture.” Both share a more humble culture characterized by discreet style choices for fashion or simple but delectable midnight dishes for food. And going beyond the cultural parallels, there are more concrete connections between food and fashion on campus. But first, let’s explore the intangible characteristics that relate the two cultures.
Fashion doesn’t have to be haute couture. It doesn’t have to be designer names or expensive watches, and it doesn’t have to make you feel like you’re not cool enough to write about it. You might have heard: Fashion is a means of self-expression.
Sure, you’ll find those students who actually wear those quirky, straight-off-the-high-fashion-runway outfits. Others dress unyieldingly to their stereotype — hipster, conservative, punk, prep — or just pick up on current trends.
Consider black nail polish. Before its recent rise to style, it was worn as an act of rebellion. One might even say that it was in its truest form of self-expression before everyone started wearing it.
But some don’t pay attention to clothing choices at all. Plenty of people are content with an unkempt mane, jeans and a sweatshirt — the my-work-is-more-important-than-my-style look. Regardless of whether you’re actually trying to say something, you’re still making a statement. Even though you may not have heard of Dior or Yves saint Laurent, when you dress yourself, you express yourself — and that is fashion.
Like fashion, food also has an expensive side. Why is caviar so revered? Is it really that delectable? No. It’s expensive and wild and showy, just like some elements of high fashion. Though you might enjoy celebrating the high points of food, you don’t need to eat some gourmet chef’s two seared scallops with a grass blade garnish for dinner to be satisfied.
Good food doesn’t have to be fancy or daunting. A simple pasta carbonara dish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and enough warm bacon bits will satisfy you and your roommates on a late Saturday night. Even Gourmet magazine, a Condé Nast publication that features “haute nourriture,” has found its humble roots in its fervor for food politics and in W. Hodding Carter’s “Extreme Frugality” series.
So that was the intangible connection — but how and when do food and self-expression literally collide on campus? Just take a look at Ann Arbor’s party scene. I’ve always thought that the best parties are those that involve food and require guests to arrive in costume, threatening dire consequences for those who don’t. We have our highlighter, toga, foam and stoplight parties, as well as our food gatherings: tailgates, barbecues and dinner parties. Every so often these events blissfully combine into a costume-food party.
One of my favorite parties was a friend’s autumn “lumberjacks and flapjacks” party. Attendees donned flannel shirts and construction paper axes and consumed pancakes alongside their warm spiced cider drinks. Guests explored their lumberjack alter ego through costume and further expressed themselves by getting into character. The party was thrown by a food friend of mine who enjoys the intricacies of good food, but who also revels in the pleasure of sharing more simplistic foods with friends.
Another party that invited friends in costume for a bite to eat was a white-trash deer roast put on by a house of Men’s Glee Club members and a neighboring house of students who enjoyed hunting. The food of the hour, venison, was wild and maybe slightly showy, but it was meant to be shared and enjoyed.
The extent of self-expression at the party was debatable, however. How does someone express him or herself when everyone’s wearing the same costume? I think that depends on the extent to which one interprets the theme; to what degree, for example, will you cut back your hair to resemble a mullet? And then for how many more days will you wear that style before trimming back your tresses? It begs you to assess your willingness to transform yourself.
For the ultimate mix of food and fashion, I recommend a food-costume party of your own. Scrap your “everything but clothes” party for an “anything as long as it’s food” event. Think of the Hershey’s challenge from “Project Runway,” where contestants visited the Hershey’s store in Times Square and had to dress their models in candy wrappers and Twizzlers. I once dressed up as “Princess Lolly” from Candyland, and glued oven-flattened lollipops to a homemade dress. Although I brought extra lollipops for hungry partygoers, a friend still took a bite out of my candy crown. So watch out for that: Don’t make your outfit too delectable or you may walk home wearing a lot less than you arrived in.