A Mere Formality
Making Sense of Formal Night
For him, the house formal actually begins two days prior. It begins on a sunny Friday inside Keezer's Formalwear where he goes to pick up some accessories. He's been to a few of these before and at this point he's used to the incipient nervousness creeping upward from the base of his stomach.
At the counter he hears seniors cursing themselves for not laying out $200 their first year at college to buy a tuxedo; they now have to suffer their seventh $50 rental. He feels good about his prescient move to purchase his tux in October of his first year.
He heads to buy a new cummerbund-bow-tie combo and splurges a little by renting a pair of shiny, patent-leather dress shoes. He leaves the store happy, but nervous nonetheless.
He wonders why, exactly, he is nervous. Perhaps because he knows his date but not that well. Perhaps because he's convinced that he can't dance to save his life. Most likely, though, he's worried because of the heaviness, the weight, the very formality of the formal. At this point, though, he brushes aside his worries: "It's a chance to have fun and get away from work", he tells himself.
Two days later, he's trying not to think about the formal. As he sees other people in his house and from other houses already in their tuxes at three in the afternoon, his nervousness goes up a few notches. Why is he nervous now? Hasn't he had all weekend to allay his fears?
It must date back to that first dance in sixth grade when he first stepped onto the dance-floor shivering with nervousness. By high school he had become more comfortable with himself, but the anxiety lingered. He remembers showing up with only an hour left at his senior prom because he was nervous.
But what was he nervous about at that prom? It was the formality, he tells himself, the big deal that everyone made about it, the picture sessions, the which-couples-were-showing-up-in-what-color-limo, the need to get dressed up and, more importantly, to bring a pretty date. Again, he brushes aside these memories and perceptions. He's in college now and nobody cares about who's wearing what.
He gets dressed and waits outside his date's building for her to come out. He forgot flowers, of course, so he waits empty-handed; at least his shoes are shiny. He's certainly nervous about picking up his date, but even more nervous about taking her to the dance itself.
But once he and she take their first apprehensive steps into the room, a strange thing happens. As they see people dancing and starting to unwind and they begin to notice it. After they have a drink, he's pretty sure he sees it. And when they step outside to get some air and look back at the dance floor, they both realize it: the formality is still there, but the heaviness is gone; people are simply having fun.
Under the facade of the black wool, silk and leather, he realizes, the same college students rear their ugly heads. In fact, by the end of the evening when he hears a women screaming incoherently on the bus that returns him to school, he feels somewhat indignant. "What kind of formal is this?" he insists. What about the dignified manner with which adults at formal balls conduct themselves? He is struck by the sharp contrast between formal clothing and decidedly casual behavior.
Yet that's the whole point, he decides. The formal is just that: all about formality, entirely external, a complete facade. It's just an excuse for college kids to look good and show off their tuxes and dates to their friends. He concludes happily that since everyone realizes that it's all just a big show, there's really no need to be nervous! He's determined to take future formals with that grain of salt, knowing that, by definition, they're only formal. Why be anxious?
Two months later, the whole cycle begins anew as the same guy nervously re-enters Keezer's.
Michael M. Rosen, a junior living in Quincy House, is a Crimson editor.