Mysterious and alluring, it is one of the rarest creatures in the world. Only spotted on the most unlikely of nights, it constantly evades capture at the last minute, coming tantalizingly close before dancing away once again. Despite its slippery nature, it entraps the world's attention as its depths hold secrets and promises about not only the natural world but also our true selves. This solitary creature, an apex predator in its own right, is none other than the most elusive animal of all: the perfect going-out top.
It's an inane concept, but one that so many of us subscribe to. The siren song of the perfect going-out top calls out to all who venture into the night, making us hope and dream for that instant fix, the panacea to all our problems. I can picture it: a daring little red thing with straps that criss-cross in mystifying patterns; or maybe a black leather piece, tight in all the right places yet classy nonetheless; or perhaps a flimsy, glittery monstrosity that incomprehensibly stays on despite all common logic. Regardless of what it looks like, I know it's there, daring me to find it.
Every weekend, as the prospect of another night out approaches, the idea of the perfect going-out top returns to haunt me. On Friday night, after the week's slew of classes is done, I come back to my humble abode, ready to shed my regular skin for my night-out persona. In a futile attempt to escape my reality, a familiar ritual of beauty potions and tiny tops begins, soundtracked by the yearning voices of Taylor Swift and Charli XCX. As they sing about unfaithful boyfriends and hopeless romances, I am transported to their world of heartbreak and drama, one that allows me to forget my own troubles. After all, vulnerability is so much sexier when it belongs to someone else.
And so the process begins: my desk turns from a repository of learning and scholarly pursuits to an assembly line of various tools and products, producing yet another clone with perfect hair and immaculate makeup. My hair, already damaged and dry, is attacked with an inferno of weapons, every strand meticulously brushed and put into place as I attempt the paradoxical "casual blowout." Only once it's finished, when the impossible has been achieved, can I move on to the next phase in my metamorphosis. The array of bottles and creams stare me down with all the pressure of a chess game; it’s a tactical minefield where one wrong move can spell cosmetic disaster. The baby pink blush I pat onto my cheeks, a stroke of painterly deception, is only a faint echo of the flush of true excitement—a wild adventure with friends or a kiss from a beautiful lover.
Every application, every brushstroke of different paints and potions, is an attempt to bring these dreams to life, to recreate the thrill of what can only be described as a "good time." Despite the obvious farce, the intent, the fantasy of realization, rings true. I can't help but wonder if maybe this night will be different, if I can live out previous expectations of what going out in college would actually be like, the kind of experience the movies had promised me.
But, of course, all dreams must come to an end, and so I stand naked in front of my mirror, staring at the blank canvas that can only be my body. Why does it look like that? Why aren't they symmetrical? Is that normal? The only solution is the perfect top, one that will hide all the weird bulges and shapes that must be mine, even if they seem like a stranger's. Perhaps the right shirt—sexy but not too sexy, flirty but not too flirty—will hide them, will let me exist without constantly thinking about the body hiding underneath.
And so I dig through my closet, filled with countless dainty little shirts, all of them specifically purchased for this purpose. The innumerable dollars and the endless hours I have spent shopping have come down to this pivotal moment where all my excess may come to fruition. Maybe this one, with its clever cutout could do the job, or this other one, boned and fitted, would work for tonight. But no, they don't fit right. None of them ever look right.
The top I'm searching for, the one that I'm convinced is in my closet, hiding somewhere behind my colorful collection of halter tops and my impulse-purchase corset, doesn't exist. It can't exist. Despite all my calculations, my formula for the perfect top—one that factors in the right amount of cleavage, a tasteful level of tightness, and a length that isn't too cropped but still shows off the right bits—is wrong. Even when I find a piece that hits all the right buttons, there's something missing, and when I look back at the girl in my mirror, it's still just me.
After all, the perfect going-out top is not merely cute; it is completely transformative. The girl with the perfect going-out top is not a mere woman. I see her moving on a crowded dance floor, easily waltzing between friends and strangers as she slinks through conversations without pause. Her outfit, casual yet so right for the occasion, is the exact combination of effortless and flawless, as if she mindlessly threw on whatever was lying on top of her bed without a care in the world. And she's beautiful—so beautiful that when I see her, the only thought in my head is that I would give anything in the world to be like her.
She doesn't only look the part, she is. She can party all night and still wake up at seven in the morning the next day, ready to run an easy mile at the Nelson. Her grades are perfect, even as she takes the most notorious of pre-med classes, easily completing a double concentration. When asked what she does in her free time, she rattles off the longest list of extracurriculars, and only when pressed does she reveal she's the editor-in-chief of my favorite publication.
And of course she's not alone. She's the kind of girl who has the perfect group of friends, all of whom are just as gorgeous. Every weekend night, they convene to get ready to go out. My silly rituals are transformed in their hands, and the act of putting on makeup is consecrated. When they do their eyeliner, their blush, their lipstick, they are not painting their face in an attempt to look more beautiful—it is an exercise in womanhood and friendship. As they share different outfit options, the shirts that pass between their hands are holy garments, immortalizing their friendship as more than a mere relationship between friends. What is farcical in the solitude of my room is made holy in the presence of this group, as they elevate the simple routines of womanhood into the sacrament.
Despite what people may say, a going-out top is not just a simple article of clothing. It's the armor that will protect me from the night that lies ahead. Every face-pinching shot of vodka, every dignity-consuming frat party I go to, every grating song that always gets played—none of that matters when I have the right top on. The allure of the going-out top is not in how it makes my boobs look bigger or my waist look more snatched—it's in its ability to transform me into someone I'm not, someone I can't even recognize, someone who is capable of taking on all the challenges and dangers of the night. And in the light of day, when I take off my top and don my regular uniform, even if I wasn't changed, at least I looked the part.
So this weekend, when I get ready to go out again, I will look at my empty room, my drawer full of makeup, and my closet full of tops, with the knowledge that I won't find what I'm searching for, but that I'll try nonetheless.