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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One thought on “Questioning Quirky: An Analysis of Outside-The-Box Style

  1. I dunno, I think ‘quirky’ is a nice word for weird; when someone is appreciably weird but acceptable or attractive in enough ways otherwise that ‘weird’ seems too harsh.

    Zooey Deschanel does have a very particular style, which is outside of the norm enough to be noticeable but glossy and sweet enough to appeal widely.

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