What’s Ur Quirk?

Photo by Isabel Cristo
Isabel Cristo/The Phoenix

This week’s CJ theme is “Quirky.” I was a little baffled when I heard that. I’ve been called quirky enough times to wonder if maybe it’s true, and if maybe my column is in fact actually always quirky. But I think before jumping to conclusions I better define what quirky actually means. Having considered it for I while, I think it’s probably just abberance from the norm. But then you have to decide: is it abberance from the social norm, or abberance from your personal norm?

I don’t really know, but the second seems more fun to write about, so I pick that. Lately, my feelings about clothes have been very much rotating around the ideas of consistency and decisions about consistency (re: last Hi! Fashion) — my problem being that, currently, I don’t really have any consistency. If you don’t have any consistency to err away form, is it possible to be quirky?

While I was standing on a bench outside Kohlberg last Saturday night, an unknown boy from the ville passed by and, noticing my elevated feet, he complimented my Jordans — too excited to play it cool, I squealed that they are new. He laughed and said he could tell.

Something about me in my Jordans and my excitement to be wearing them was funny to the boy, and somehow gave away my unfamiliarity with them. There was, in that moment, something inconsistent about me on the bench in my Jordans. It’s hard to decide what exactly the inconsistency was: my uncool reaction to a comment about something cool? Or my actual self, an embarrassed girl in a summer dress with big fancy sneakers on?

I think the former plays into the latter: I achieved inconsistency without starting out consistent because I — through my reaction, through my appearance — was inconsistent with the shoes on my feet.

So maybe without consistency to err away from, it is still possible to be quirky! It is not necessarily across time but across outfit, across person in outfit. Quirk can be an integral part of any single self-presentation, the part that is more apparent than the other bits, the part that doesn’t — at least initially — make sense.

That is one of my favorite parts of fashion: even when I’m lost in a sea of potential “looks” and can’t decide on some overarching over-time consistency, I’m consoled by the smaller-scale project of making each outfit not-quite-consistent.

So maybe, those half-hearted characterizations of “quirky girl” that come out of my half-friends mouths are true: I love the quirk, the little thing that sets everything off and makes it more self-consciously and overtly what it is. Maybe that doesn’t quite make sense, but what I mean is that, in my little summer dress, with my long hair and my nervous excitement and giggles, I presented a cohesive, feminine identity of white college girl at a liberal arts college. The sneakers didn’t do anything to contradict that — rather, they highlighted it, they pointed out its performativity, and, in doing so, they make it somehow a little bit funny.

Which, of course, it is. Quirkiness is funny. Inconsistency is funny. Performativity revealed is funny. I’m not exactly sure why that is: why is it that the boy walking by laughed at me in Jordans? Is it because he didn’t buy the inconsistency of the performativity? Because he was able to write off the little “quirk” as a superficial contradiction of what is essentially my real identity? Maybe. Or maybe he was charmed by the reality of inconsistency, by the possibility that playing with it implies. This is where fashion gets really interesting: we can consider it superficial and dismiss any intuitions we have about it as unimportant. But we are still constantly reacting to it, still constantly engaging it and basing judgements and decisions on the way people visually represent themselves.

So what’s your quirk? Where do you slip in a bit of inconsistency? And do you want to slip in more? In the context of broader stylistic consistency — and it’s true, generally we end up following predictable patterns of dress because you can only have so many items of clothing and hopefully they match — these quirks in individual outfits get to be contextualized: do you want to have a consistent inconsistency? Or constantly shifting different types?

Let’s get quirky, kids.

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