“We make fun of people getting underwear for Christmas in childhood,” says Bethany Wallace. “But some people only have the pair they're wearing, and that's a bizarre invisibility to our privilege.”
Wallace is the organizer of UnderAware: Unmentionables Costume Party and Benefit Show for Urban Peak featuring live music from Church Fire, the Milk Blossoms, Crush Craze and Hang Rounders, happening at Syntax Physic Opera this Friday, February 12. In addition to music, the event includes a unique dress code — or lack thereof: Attendees are invited to wear nothing but their skivvies.
In recent years, Wallace has gotten involved with Urban Peak, a nonprofit serving homeless youth in Denver and Colorado Springs. The organization helps young people ages thirteen to 24 find permanent housing and safe spaces, or at least a place to take a shower or prepare for a job interview. “It's more than just a place to sleep,” Wallace says.
Wallace read Liz Murray's 2011 critically acclaimed autobiography, Breaking Night, which outlined Murray's struggle to overcome the circumstances of a troubled childhood in which she found herself living on the streets in her early teens. Though Wallace has never experienced it herself, the story brought the perspective of homeless youth into vivid focus for her.
“Underwear and breakfast are things I never questioned,” Wallace says. Once she realized the disparity, she felt that she had to follow through and take some action.
She's not the only one. In January, Glob hosted Raise the Roof, a dance party featuring Thug Entrancer and other local artists, that benefited Denver Homeless Out Loud. The event is unaffiliated with Wallace and UnderAware, but these events indicate an increasing awareness for homeless youth in the area.
Though now employed in the corporate world, Wallace spent time involved in Denver's nonprofit sector, including a stint with the Rape Assistance and Awareness Program, where she worked with Shannon Webber, the elemental singer of synth-pop duo Church Fire. From this work, Wallace became aware of the challenges that nonprofit organizations face in funding operations and programs. With RAAP, Wallace, Webber and others even had to canvas door to door in order to raise funds.
Last year, Wallace had the idea to hold a fundraiser for Urban Peak, so she contacted the organization to make sure it was okay to associate its name with an underwear party. While not an official Urban Peak event, all proceeds from the door will be donated to the organization. Because Wallace had some connections with the Denver music world, she decided that a live-music event with the ambience of a location like Syntax Physic Opera would best appeal to friends and potential donors.
The bands providing the music feel connected to the cause as well. According to Curtis Wallach, guitarist for the Hang Rounders, “Urban Peak helps underprivileged and at-risk kids avoid homelessness and become self-sufficient. If our band can in any way get more supplies or funds to them just by playing our crappy songs to people — which we enjoy doing anyway — then that's great!”
“And you gotta be kidding me if you are in any way involved in a subculture and can't identify or at least sympathize with the plight or a young transient person,” adds Rounders pedal-steel player Tyler Breuer. “We are honored and psyched to be involved.”
The invitation for party-goers to dress in their underwear serves to bring attention to the not-often-discussed need for undergarments among people experiencing homelessness. Besides, Wallace thinks the premise is exciting to attendees.
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“Based on the responses of a lot of people, I kind of think many people want to wear their underwear outside,” explains Wallace. “The voyeuristic, 'let's get weird' [thing], but not to have someone else tell you it's okay or where to do it. Especially if it's for a good cause. With it being cold, maybe [the costume theme] would allow people to feel dressed up and comfortable with long johns.”
The exhibitionist spirit appeals to the masses, it seems: Even Wallace's great-great-aunt, her great-aunt and her own mother plan to attend wearing vintage-era underwear.
The Hang Rounders, too, plan to get in on the action. Breuer says, “We all have great big bruises and social commentary tattoos on our legs that you can only really see when we are in our undergarments.”
UnderAware: Unmentionables Costume Party and Benefit Show will feature Church Fire, The Milk Blossoms, Crush Craze and Hang Rounders, 8 p.m. Friday, February 12, $10 suggested donation, Syntax Physic Opera, 554 South Broadway, 720-456-7041, 21+.