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!






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One thought on “Questioning Quirky: Part 2 of An Analysis of Outside-the-Box Style

  1. very interesting conversation! here’s a comment filled with links.

    jezebel really published that article in SEPTEMBER of 2012? how deja-vu… they made this same mistake of publishing a pretty spiteful article directed at women who dress in a girlish fashion back in june 2011. i can’t find it on jezebel anymore but it’s here:

    here’s a rundown of some of the best critiques that came out of it:

    are you guys familiar with Eline of A Fluffy Blog? she’s written lots of great posts about these questions:

    “When feminists claim that wearing a frilly dress is conforming to a patriarchal beauty standard and that one hurts the women’s movement by acting/being ‘girly’ then these feminists are setting an equally suffocating standard that exclude so many of us. Besides, by that logic isn’t wearing the uniform of a white, straight cis-gendered person equally hurting the women’s movement? By that logic, shouldn’t there be a feminist uniform that subverts that rigid template? Should we dye our leg and armpit hair a bright colour to show our feminist side, should we tattoo a riot grrrl lyric on our forehead? What makes a feminist to me is doing what you want to do and encouraging others to do the same and this mindset goes well beyond fashion, our outfits are only an outer signifier though they can also do a whole lot, for you and your like-minded peers.”

    and also cassie over at prism power wrote this:

    great analysis that takes race and class into consideration. there have also been great articles asking, “who is the black zooey deschanel?”

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