Sorority/frat members: Explain pinning to me

So, like a million other pretentious young women who dress from head to toe in black on an alarmingly frequent basis, I’m writing a novel. The protagonist is in college (at least when the book starts), as is her sister, and her sister is in a sorority. I want to write a scene wherein the sister gets pinned.

Never having been in a sorority, nor having seen a pinning (except from the second floor window of my apartment, looking down at one happening at the frat house next door), I need to know what happens, what it signifies, are non-Greeks invited, and so forth.

All I know (and please correct me if I’m wrong) is that pinning is considered a pre-engagement ritual–that is, the pinned couple are promised to one another. True?

Enlighten me, please! Unless, of course, telling me would break some secret Greek code…:slight_smile:

Well, there’s couple definitions. The pin you’re describing is the Fraternity Pin which in most Fraternities is given only upon initiation into the house. Its usually regarded as a pretty important symbol and is expected to be treated with the utmost respect and care. In most houses it forever remains the property of the Fraternity and is intended to be surrendered back to the chapter once you die.

Now, the tradition of “pinning” a girl is, like you surmised, the greek equivalent of a “promise ring” of pre-engagement. The trick however is that some people, fraternities and campuses each have varying levels of committment to the tradition. I knew of several people who were “pinned” after only a few months of dating and it wasn’t treated as much as a pre-engagement as it was simply a vow of monogamy. This is probably the minority, but be aware of it.

Now, when you consider the fact that its never intended to be parted from the fraternity member and that it remains the property of the house, you should see the significance of the guy giving it to the girl. It essentially is him giving her something that he can never lose or give away, in essence by him giving it to her he’s binding himself to her through the pin.

As I understand it (never been through it myself) sororities make a very big deal of a girl having been pinned. The guys usually just take the sap out to get drunk and razz him a bit. In my house it was tradition for the guy to keep it hush-hush and when it somehow slipped everyone nearby grabbed him and dragged him kicking and screaming into the showers to be drenched while fully clothed. The girls however have a huge group ceremony (not sure if the guy is involved or not) and essentially make a big deal out of the girl involved. Sorry to say I can’t shed any light on that part of it, but I presume someone will.

There’s the another kind of pinning which usually refers to the pledge being given their pledge pin. It has it own set of rules and isn’t regarded with the reverence the Fraternity pin is. It doesn’t have the letters on it, while the Fraternity pin does. In some places only initiated members are allowed to wear letters, however on my campus it was typically that the pledge couldn’t wear pins with the letters on it. Many places would term this a “pinning”.

There’s also a variety of pinsthat can have different meanings. There’s usually a presidents pin, and a pinning ceremony to go with it. There’s a variety of alumni pins given for philanthopic achievments, or exemplary brotherhood and so on, each with some fashion of pinning ceremony.

You can see that pins tend to be a big deal in the greek system. I’ll stop now since 90% of this post is completely off topic.

It’s a lot like pining, only everybody’s not nearly as horney.

The only pinning I’ve ever heard of is the “you’re not just my girlfriend, but like, a super-serious girlfriend” type pinning. I think it’s one of those things that used to be a big deal earlier last century, but now is just some sort of nearly-dead formality. A lot of sororities have little ceremonies for members who get pinned, and as mentioned above some frats tie their members to trees and stuff. We never did any of that crap, so I really don’t know what the big deal is.

My older brother, who went to college from 1966 to 1970, told me that there were three steps in announcing how seriously a couple was dating. He was not a fraternity member. This was apparently standard even among non-frat types. Anyway, the order was that first you gave your girlfriend a lavaliere (a pendant worn on a chain around the neck), then you gave her a pin, and then you became engaged. This three-step process was dead by sometime in the '70’s.

Wendell Wagner - nope - it’s alive and well. Omniscient - right on.

I went to a large northeastern state school with a huge Greek system from 1991 - 1995, and those exact steps were followed then in my sorority.

Pinning is a pre-engagement, and depending on the fraternity/sorority, it has verying degrees of seriousness. A lot of fraternities would - um - haze the guy, since a lot of fraternities took their letters VERY seriously.

In my sorority we had a candle circle, and a lit candle was passed around by the membership. First trip around the circle - lavaliere, second - pin, third - engagement. The attached girl was the one who blew out the candle.

The whole time we would sing silly songs about sisterhood and other blather. The everyone would scream and ooh and ah over the girl, at the same time growing increasingly jealous. :slight_smile:

Anything more than that, would be betraying the sisterhood, and I cannot reaveal it. :wink:

Well, austen, we might have been in the same house, 'cuz that’s what my sorority did, too.

Pinning was still a live tradition when I was in college (graduated in '98). When the guy “pinned” his girlfriend, most fraternities would strip him to his underwear and tie him to the sign in front of their house, then throw things at him (like food-- nothing too painful), then make him get drunk. Isn’t romance a beautiful thing?

It was taken pretty seriously on both sides, but for all that every girl I saw get pinned broke up with the guy within a month.

Yeah - most of those relationships did NOT last.

Which house and what school didya go to, Beadalin ?


Perhaps it’s still alive at your alma mater, but in all the time that I spent in college and grad school (at five different universities) from 1970 to 1981, I never heard anyone mention lavaliering or pinning and engagement was never spoken of as a ceremony.

Wow, it just goes to show you that the “sixties” or “seventies” just either did not get to some places, or there has been a recent revival in the nineties of those old practices that us old farts thought had hit the dust. Don’t know whether that is good or bad, but it sure makes me sad (for me, not for the young’uns).

What’s that on your chest?

/Doug Neidermayer

My fraternity house was like the above. Lavaliere was no big deal, just a sign of an exclusive but usually very temporary relationship. At the meetings, anyone who had been lavaliered the previous month had to chug a tall beer before all the members.

Although the rulebook explicitly stated that only a gal engaged to a member could wear the pin, it was often treated as pre-engagement. The hardcore protested these violations to no end.

House lore also said that a few guys in the early days that had been pinned were hand and legcuffed and then chained naked overnight and into the next morning to a tree in front of the pinees sorority house. Apocryphal at best, but what a great disincentive to enter into such an arrangement casually.

It’s a Delta pin.

Hmmm…currently in college and a fraternity here, and we don’t pin girls at all. It’s kind of a non-written policy of our national fraternity that non-brothers don’t have anything that has our “stuff” on it. By stuff I mean letters, crest, our pin, etc… However, there is an Aplha Chi Rho Sweetheart ceremony, however that is generally not for girlfriends but more for girls that are close to the fraternity. One that knows all the brothers, and hangs out with them. An “Alpha Chi Ho,” as it were.

Yeah, my sorority did that asinine candle circle thing, too. Except that the first round was for “friendship.” Nobody had a candlelight for that, though. A few girls had candlelights for lavaliering, which was highly annoying. We would get an announcement that we were all supposed to come to the house for a meeting…only to find out that some girl got a new necklace? Whoop dee freakin’ doo.

I’m a Kappa, FWIW.

Wow, everyone, thanks for the great info!

A few questions:

Austen, Beadalin and Green Bean:
Can you describe these candle circles in greater detail? Bear in mind I am not at all familiar with sorority rituals not shown on an episode of Beverly Hills 90210. :slight_smile:

So the members stand in a circle and pass a candle, with the number of trips around the circle indicating the level of involvement? Was this a special gathering or just something you would do at a regular meeting? Did you have to dress in a particular way or color?

I’m curious now whether what I saw at my window was an actual pinning: I saw a huge crowd of both men and women in the backyard of a frat house. There were a couple of speeches made, a couple of songs sung by the assembly–I couldn’t really understand either–then a huge circle was formed with a couple in the middle. They spoke, the guy handed the girl something, the couple kissed, and all the girls in the circle shrieked and clapped. The guys clapped, too, then tossed the guy in the pool. Pinning or just a bizarre mating ritual?

What does the fraternity do if a member loses the pin, or the girl gets pissed at him and tosses it into a lake?

Texas school, 1976 - 1980

I am not aware that the guys even observed the pinning in any way in our school.

We had the candle circle too. It was usually after our regular meeting. No one was compelled to attend, and no special attire or anything. We did not, however, do lavaliere. In fact, this is the first I have heard of that! And, since elopements did sometimes happen, we had an extra round after the engagment round once!

As for Guinastasia’s question, when a pledge became an active member, her “big sister” lent her pin to her, since little sister didn’t yet have one. Of course, since big sister also still wanted to wear her pin, and she would be horrified if little sister lost her pin, active members usually had at least two pins. So did the men, at least one of which was meant for the girl of his dreams.

Also, any pin is replaceable, although a certain one may have a sentimental value.

Wordy One, as you can guess from all the replies, it evidently depends on when and were you went to school. I went to school in the ice age in an era between the times when Greeks were popular on campuses (died out in early 70’s, picked up again in early 80’s from what I understand) and our school was particularly non-Greek in a generally non-Greek world, so I perhaps am not qualified, but I can’t think of what it could have been you saw. Way back when “the pinning” was never a ceremony, any more than a man giving a girl and engagment ring would be. It happened in private and was then announce later, each to his and her own house. But, things may have changed since then, or we just may not have been Greek enough to do it that way!