Twee and Sympathy

The antidote to everyday, whimsical and spunky Itgirl fashion has been building for decades with independent films and quirky television shows. However, I have mixed feelings about incorporating whimsy in my wardrobe. I love it when I see it on others; it gives me a vicarious thrill. However, I have found my style slowly shifting away from twee touches. As Clementine says in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, “Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m gonna make them alive.”

At times, I have grown weary of men labeling my ambition, creativity, and independence as “cute”. Essentially, I believe this may be rooted in the icons associated with the looks. So, I have divided them into archetypes to dissect their impact on fashion, their significance within culture, and the message twee clothing proclaims.

Manic Pixie Dream Girl

While this trope, especially as an side character in a male protagonist’s self-discovery, has been criticized, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl lives on through thrifted hi-low style. Her clothing screams, “I’m fun, creative and maybe – a little bit crazy.” To date, Nathan Rabin, who originally coined the phrase, admits that his criticism of the trope has been misinterpreted. It is not these delightful female characters that present the problem. Their use a tool for the leading man’s happiness remains the issue. In fact, there are also similar characters who have flipped the trope on its head. Some better-known examples, positive and negative, include:

  • Claire, Elizabethtown
  • Amelie, Amelie
  • Clementine, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Summer Finn, 500 days of Summer
  • Sam, Garden State
  • Sara Deever, Sweet November
  • Penelope, Penelope

In each of these instances, the character relishes small sartorial thrills. Their style is lived-in, thrifted, colorful and fanciful. Each has a passion for life and an unconscious love for beautiful things. On one hand, this character exudes empowerment when she is at the center of the story, such as Amelie or Penelope. By contrast, the archetype relegates the Manic Pixie Dream Girl to a muse that becomes a mechanism for change in the leading man’s life. This association makes the twee trend romantically risky.

Really Bored Receptionist

Sometimes, the designers pair the most delightful costumes with really dull jobs. In the cinematic universe, Really Bored Receptionists use their downtime to boost personal style. Again, the passion of these characters is obvious. They “bring it” each day — even to an uneventful and low-pay job. However, their situation mirrors the sad reality of the glass ceiling while reinforcing the notion that goofy, sexy women belong at the front desk instead of the corner office. Below are some of the more memorable sassy secretaries.

  • Amanda Tannen, Ugly Betty
  • Elaine Vassal, Ally McBeal
  • Janine Melnitz, Ghostbusters
  • Miss Moneypenny, James Bond movies
  • Judy, What’s Up Doc?

Instead of getting direct credit for contributing to the workplace, they are typically a distraction. They are the objects of flirting. They are the mistresses or daydreams. They become the wallpaper that beautifies the lobby. But, like any office decoration, they’re not expected to speak up and contribute meaningfully to the business. In the workplace, the sassy secretary style sends submissive signals.

Poor Little Rich Girl

For every Becky Sharp trying to climb the social ladder, there always seems to be a few unhappy princesses envying her independence. Much like the cheerleader who complains about the emptiness of popularity, this archetype has found little meaning at the end of a cocaine line. Instead, the Poor Little Rich Girl shrinks behind tattered, oversized luxe-wear. Below are some examples of this trope:

  • Patricia Graynamore, Joe Versus the Volcano
  • Jasmine, Aladdin
  • Margot Helen Tenenbaum, The Royal Tannenbaums
  • Susan Vance, Bringing up Baby
  • Princess Anne, Roman Holiday

Although Grey Gardens was aesthetically fascinating, the documentary raised questions about the desperate, decomposing elite. The fine line between childish melancholy and true mental illness becomes blurred when these situations are reduced to a tube of bright red lipstick, broken diamond earrings, and a dirty hypodermic needle. While high fashion the contrast of this mix, the look reads as generally disrespectful — more so when contrived.

Sexy Little Rebel

More than a fringy leather jacket or a wild playlist, adolescent rebellion transitions children into adults. The process poses questions about authority, status quo, priorities and personal growth. However, these stories are often much more serious for young men when Dolores Haze of Lolita manifests rebellion in contrast to Sam Gribley of My Side of the Mountain. Both reject their guardian’s lifestyle for a sort of independence. However, storytellers often objectify young, rebellious female characters.   Below are some well-known examples of Sexy Little Rebels on both sides of the objectification spectrum.

  • Ramona Flowers, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
  • Charlotte Vale, Now, Voyager
  • Juno MacGuff, Juno
  • Penny Lane, Almost Famous
  • Lelaina Pierce, Reality Bites
  • Holly Golightly, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Although adolescent blossoming remains an important narrative device, some stories lose sight of deeper themes. Rebellious heroines need no adorkable factor. Overall, the trope favors objectification over authenticity. As a style, the Sexy Little Rebel looks teeters between desperate and despondent.

Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m gonna make them alive. –  Clementine, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

As I always say, “It’s your body and you can dress how you want to.” However, first looks shape perception – the perennial double-edged blessed curse of fashion. Dressing for personal style, not costume, breaks boundaries of the troupe. Remember who you are and why those characters inspired your look. Check out the leading ladies in the lookbook below to get more twee inspiration.

Which characters inspire your whimsical wardrobe?


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