Questioning Quirky Part 3

This is part 3/the last part of a 3 part series.

Part One

Part Two

In the first instalment of this series, we took a critical look at the idea of “quirky” style using the example of Zooey Deschanel in an old-ish article of Lucky Magazine (April 2011). In the second instalment, we reviewed tropes and quirky guy style.


Today is the last (and long overdue) post on our Questioning Quirky Style Series. Of concern for our last portion of this discussion is how “quirky” often seems to be a comment on the abilities of the wearer.

Indeed, the quirky dresser (who is almost always a woman as we discussed in our last post) is presumed to be childish, charmingly naive, and adorably incapable. All of these things, coincidentally (or not) are stereotypes often associated with women who live with disabilities.

Self-identified women in general have a long history of being presumed mentally delicate, the ‘fairer sex’, etc. After all, one of the many reasons women were not given the right to vote from the start was because women were assumed to not have the head for politics, or were considered far too vulnerable to the dirty doings that the political world had to offer–they were childish, mentally inferior and immature, etc. All of these things seem to be magnified for women living with disabilities*.

How all this relates to a women who care for outfits like the one above (The Like) might be a bit of a stretch, but still, think about it: would folks, the media, etc, generally presume that the women above are

A. Physically weak, easily distracted, have a collective sweet tooth, just having fun all the time, in need of protection or guidance somehow, boy-crazy but not sexual


B. Strong in all ways, focused, ambitious, conscientious, balance work and play, need a little help from their friends now and then but is pretty much able to do what they want when they want to?

Now, there is nothing wrong with being either of these things (though the first one in particular  is one trope of women that we very often see in the media). What is problematic assumptions that come along with looking like you might be a ‘quirky’ girl. Zooey Deschanel recently came out as a feminist in Glamour magazine, complaining of her frustration that the media wouldn’t somehow allow her to be a feminist and have a love of things associated with the quirky trope.

The first part of this series observed how despite Deschanel explicitly said she didn’t like the word “quirky” or being associated with the concept, she was still pigeonholed as such by the writer of her cover story. In other words, Deschanel was treated like a child, or someone who is just too cute to take seriously. Can you imagine the writer thinking to themselves, “Aw, Zooey is getting all fired up! I just can’t help but call her quirky!” Deschanel’s choices and preferences were overlooked–she was in her late twenties in that interview, and was still treated like she couldn’t possibly know what she was talking about.

The ‘quirky’ fashion figure has long been associated often playfully (which in turn is problematic) with mental health and wellness. We see this with ableist language like “madcap glamour”, “crazy style”, etc.

Interestingly, a quick trip to an online thesaurus shows that synonyms for ‘quirky’ are in fact many words that are commonly used derogatorily against folks living with disabilities. “Weird” is one of those words, which Deschanel noted, and so is “eccentric,” which is one term often associated with the late Isabella Blow.

Blow was a fashion editor who discovered Alexander McQueen, Sophie Dahl, and Stella Tenant. She was and still is a “quirky” style icon. According to Vogue, Blow was, “the embodiment of the English eccentric,” which, though sartorially charming, was and still is very frequently associated with her struggles with depression. As such, we might see the well-established connection between such style and mental health.

Above: The Like

Moving forward, how can we reframe the idea of “quirky” style, if we need to at all?

Three things in particular seem to be satisfactory solutions:

1. Use the term that people prefer. If people want to be called quirky, go with it. If they say no, like Deschanel did, don’t do it!

2. Call yourself out on the assumptions you’re making about how people dress. Are you looking at someone (like one of The Like members above) and thinking you just want to pick them up and put them in your pocket?

3. Expand your fashion vocabulary. Okay, so we’ve got ‘quirky’, but there’s also unconventional, unique, gamine, mod, eccentric, colourful, bright, fun, etc–try them out!



*Women living with disabilities face a disproportionate amount of violence, social barriers, and oppression. Learn more over at DisAbled Women’s Network (DAWN), which is a Canadian, volunteer-driven, feminist organization.

Questioning Quirky: Part 2 of An Analysis of Outside-the-Box Style

This is part 2 of a 3 part series. Did you miss part one? Check it out here.

In the first instalment of this series, we took a critical look at the idea of “quirky” style using the example of Zooey Deschanel in an old-ish article of Lucky Magazine (April 2011). Today we’re going to continue our discussion, reviewing tropes, and quirky guy style.


Let’s talk comparisons.  We would like to suggest that “quirky” is to fashion as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope is to movies and TV. The term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” was originally coined in an article by Nathan Rabin, but if you prefer a video explanation of the term, def check out this one by the amazing Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency.

Taking this a step further, if quirky is a fashion trope, then what are its implications? In the first part of this series, we posed five questions to help focus this discussion, and now we are going to attempt to break them down.

First of all, if we look at what quirky looks like (try a quick Google image search if you like), a few things tend to come up. We may observe that quirky often (but not always) looks like this:

1. Colourful. Very colourful.

2. Details like lace, hair bows, tulle, big buttons, bright tights, hats, jewelry that looks like pieces of fruit or animals, etc.

3. Small, as in physically small. “Quirky” style doesn’t see too many platforms or super form-fitting clothing, but flats and clothes that might seem like the wearer is especially petite (note how in the Lucky article, Deschanel is quoted saying, “I’m not a bondage pumps person).

4. Distinctly feminine and, mostly worn by women who appear to be white.

5. Very fun-looking, like one might assume that the wearer doesn’t have a 9-5 office job, or  looks like they are perpetually on their way to a party.

6. It’s not necessarily just for 20-somethings, but for relatively older women as well (celebrity examples could include Helena Bonham Carter, as the Lucky article suggests, and also Lynn Yaeger, the late Isabella Blow, and Ilona Smithkin).

There is nothing wrong with any of these things, and if any of these details are part of your wardrobe, do not despair! Much of the editorial team here favour pastel tights, floral-print dresses, and funny hats (like this Modcloth outfit, below).

What we want to get to here is what “quirky” style seems to mean to viewers and commentators, especially those who have power in the media, much like Lucky magazine. “Quirky” style seems to translate as someone who has nothing better to do than paint their nails, eat cupcakes all day, then retire to a rainbow boudoir at the end of the night. A person who appears to have quirky style may be further assumed to be a media trope of the “Woman-Child,” coined by Deborah Schonehman in this Jezebel article, in addition to being associated with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. Yikes.

Now, we are not naive. We know that people (including us) make judgements about you based on what you look like, and what you are wearing. What we take issue with is the weirdly frequent dumbing-down of the quirky dresser in the media, while assumptions made about their childlike wonder and amusement abound, as made apparent by the quirky dresser’s love of pleats and sparkles. We could go on, but we would rather highly recommend that you check out  this amazing post by Courtney, the fabulous feminist and super-stylish blogger behind A Bevy Of.

Now let’s move the second part of this analysis: quirky guy style. This series/article has so far been discussing the potential harm of the label “quirky” when applied to the style of a woman. What happens if we apply “quirky” to a man’s style?

Can you even think of a guy with what you would describe as “quirky” style?

Here is one celebrity example: Andre 3000. Maybe Jonny Depp, though his style seems to be a bit more “bohemian”.

For real: we LOVE Andre 3000’s style. It has all of our favorite elements:

1. Colourful

2. Details like pocket squares and hats.

3. Feminine, or has ‘feminine’ touches.

All this stuff is taken from the list above for quirky style for women, but when he wears it, he is praised for his ingenuity and uniqueness, not accused of somehow negatively affecting other folks who would identify with his race and gender. Contrast Andre to Nicki Minaj, a reigning “quirky” queen whose very presence in the media has created a firestorm of criticism and accusations for various things to do with her race(s) and gender (also, did you know that Minaj is mixed-race? This is important since she is not often portrayed this way). This point is nothing new, we know that our culture leaps to uphold the status quo (i.e., a patriarchal society), and shudders when a woman tries to do her own thing.

So where does this leave us? If “quirky” is a fashion trope, much like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope of movies and television, then we can see how it becomes rather harmful. How can we support one another to wear what we want, remain true to our sense of style, and reframe/recreate “quirky” as we want? We discuss that on our next and last instalment of this series, so stay tuned!






Questioning Quirky: An Analysis of Outside-The-Box Style

” It’s an annoying word […] Quirky is like a nice way of saying weird.”

– Zooey Deschanel in ‘The Girly Girl’s Girl’ Lucky Magazine, April 2011


Let’s talk about “quirky” style. We mean really talk about it. This is going to be a three-part series, so buckle up, folks!

There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with having cute or quirky style–let’s make this crystal clear: The Closet Feminist is in full support of self-identifying as you will, and if you self-identify your style as quirky, all the power to you! However, it is high time that we took a closer look at the label of “quirky” when it comes to one’s personal style and how that connects to identity and gender, because we think there is more to it than wearing pretty dresses and bows in your hair.

First of all, we gotta say we’re on Deschanel’s side with this quote. Seriously–she is 32, she stars in a TV show, sings in a very successful (and just plain good) band known as She & Him, runs her own website, and has amazing style. Despite this impressive resume, she is still often referred to or presented as “quirky”, or “cute”, first and foremost, rather than a businesswoman, performer, actress, etc. This preference for the former rather than the latter labels is what really comes shining through in this particular article. However, to put it into perspective a bit more, we should note that Lucky magazine is exclusively about style and shopping, and rarely features any lifestyle articles like Marie Claire and Elle might. Their interviews with celebrities are very focused on their clothing and choice of dress, which makes this magazine a favourite of ours, though that doesn’t mean we aren’t willing to take a deeper look at it.

from the article in Lucky Magazine April 2011

Here are a few things to consider up front when it comes to quirky style:

1. When we want to use ‘quirky’ in reference to personal style, what gender(s) do we usually reserve this term for?

2. Think of the word “quirky” and come up with some synonyms. Are they mostly positive or negative terms in your opinion?

3. Is there any reason in particular that would make you reach for the term “quirky” instead of its synonyms?

4. What does ‘quirky’ look like to you? Colourful? Lots of accessories? Vintage or modern?  Young, old, middle-aged?

5. Who would you consider to have quirky style–celebrities, TV or movie characters, bloggers, characters from books, etc?

We just wanted to put these things out there–keep them in mind if you like.

from Lucky Magazine, April 2011.

Getting back to the Lucky article, let us point out a few oddities. First, the title ( “The Girly Girl’s Girl”) has given readers a label alternate to ‘quirky’ and then is quickly followed up with, “actress, singer, and person with famously big blue eyes, Zooey Deschanel is as independent in her style as she is in her movie roles. But please don’t call her quirky.” A pretty good start, we think, as it recognizes Deschanel’s many accomplishments.

However, the article features a rather curious panel entitled, ‘Quirky Girls Through the Ages’ with a note underneath stating, “for all her fashion eccentricities, Deschanel is just carrying on a time-honoured Hollywood role: the flies-in-the-face-of-convention style trendsetter.” Hmmm.

So there’s that word again. What happened to ‘girly girls’? Does this note not put Deschanel back into the quirky box? Actually yea, it kind of does, because at the end of this article, the author states, “But just because she has been dressing, for lack of a better word, quirky since she was two doesn’t mean she can’t change, ” [emphasis added]. Pffft, like quirky is a bad thing (thus necessitating change)? And is this really a lack for better words or stubborn refusal to accommodate Deschanel’s preferred labels when it comes to her style?

“Quirky Girls Through the Ages” from Lucky 2011

On the other hand, there’s nothing better than a fashion retrospective, and we really like the sounds of a sartorial lineage of sorts that connects women from different times and places together (it features Clara Bow, Peggy Moffat, Marisa Berenson, Mary Tyler Moore, Cyndi Lauper, and Helena Bonhan Carter). It’s literally a ‘herstory’ of sorts. Interestingly, this panel makes a reference to feminism, as it says under Mary Tyler Moore’s picture, “Her iconic television personality-along with her tomboyish style-was pivotal to the women’s movement.” So is this a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ kind-of-a-deal? Maybe.

A hint of feminism

Moving along, did you know that Lucky Magazine has an accompanying style guide/book? It’s one of our favs, and despite being from 2008, The Lucky Guide to Mastering Any Style still rings true in a lot of ways. Of particular interest here is that the book is divided up into 10 iconic looks, ranging from “bombshell” to “arty slick”–and “quirky” is not one of those categories. The closest that they get to “quirky,” if we’re going to accept quirky as a style category, is their category of “posh eclectic” (fun fact– a picture of Deschanel is categorized into the “mod” section of the book). To be fair, however, the book is  by former Lucky editor Kim France and Andrea Linett, whereas the 2011 Deschanel article that we are discussing saw Brandon Holley at the helm of the editing team.

For the truly obsessive Lucky readers (count us in!) Deschanel, or rather her character, Jess, on Fox’s New Girl, was mentioned again in the December 2012 issue as having, “[….] twee dresses and playful prints,” in contrast to Cece’s (another character on the show played by Hannah Simone) style which , “[…] favors body-con looks and killer heels,” (p. 166). Oh how the plot thickens….

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Questioning Quirky: An Analysis of Outside-The-Box Style. We’re going to move on to discuss quirky style with regards to tropes, guys, and even mental health.










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