Viva Sookie Stackhouse! Anti-Style Icon

It’s becoming alarming to me, in this day and age, what counts as “style.” Like most things in our culture, “style” seems to operate on a sort of bipolar axis, like our relationship with eating disorders and sexuality. On one hand, you have inane the “do’s and don’ts” of Glamour, the Fashion Police of various tabloids, and completely insulting shows like “What Not to Wear.” All of the standards espoused by these outlets revolve around lack of personal style and shame of anyone who tries something new. Everything should be beige, or one of the “in” colors for the season, and please, don’t have any fun with any of it!

Can someone please explain to me what the difference is between this….

And this?

On the other hand, we have this surge of a democratic belief that everyone can be stylish. What we end up getting are people who, totally confused, have nowhere to turn. Since “individualism” in fashion is now huge thanks to Patricia Field’s Carrie Bradshaw costumes, the easiest way for one to pretend to have style is to hop down to the local Forever 21 and buy as much sweatshop, designer rip-off junk they can get their hands on. This confusion over how to dress oneself has also been capitalized upon by the gaudy looks of the  Kardashian sisters and the Jersey Shore; looks that celebrates consumption and lavishness to the ninth degree, even though they’re ugly as shit.

Then there are people who are paid to put outfits together, which we call “stylists.” These “stylists,” however, are responsible for stuff like this:

From the April 2011 Lucky magazine.When I saw this at work, I had a fit and defaced it.

Sometimes, and I think the majority of the public is with me on this one, the best route to go is the one of least resistance. Essentially having an anti-style approach to style is the only way for one to go undetected, though if they are not careful, they will end up on “What Not to Wear.” That said, I present my anti-fashion icon of the week, low-brow serialist character SOOKIE STACKHOUSE!

I found this photo on a blog that was seriously suggesting that Sookie (tv Sookie) acts as a real style icon.

 Sookie is fabulous because she is so un-fabulous, something that we are truly missing in today’s overly saturated world of “style.” As my fabulous friend and fellow fashion blogger Jake Thompson states:

“Sookie is like the Snooki of the south. She’s bunkin’ it like a bump it. Tops a little too tight, skirts a little too short, but we can’t look away. Ther’e always something a little off – like that heart zip-up from TBS4E11 (Can a girl get a Haute Topic? Not Hot Topic). Yet somehow, I lost my medulla after season 1 and bought a Merlotte’s t-shirt and wore it with cowboy boots (gay, I know). . .maybe part of Sookie’s demise lies in that Sookie is Anna Paquin -who’s had an eclectic chain of previous characters (i.e. Rogue from X-Men, sleeping with Dave Collier in Squid & The Whale, etc.) so the real question is that are we, like Marnie, trying to “invoke the spirit within” AKA, are we trying to nerd our nasty to the maxi pad? Sookie – the character could easily be a costume – like dressing up like the Olsen twins for Halloween –  I think that’s it. She’s our modern day renaissance woman. A feasible and totally accessible LARPer. But Sookie will probably cost you less and you can have a whiskey mouth the entire time.”

~Jake Thompson, “Fashionasty

So much fashion, it hurts.

Now, Sookie is best known as the telepathic, vampire-banging, lead character in the HBO’s “True Blood.” She was first imagined, however, in Charlaine Harris’ simply trashy (and addictive) “Sookie Stackhouse” novels. In these novels, Sookie is presented with a sort of anti-style that nostalgically reminds us of the small town we grew up in and a world before fashion blogs.

While there are many things that the creators of the HBO show do better than in the books (like creating interesting characters and insuring that Lafayette stayed on in a fully-developed role instead of being murdered at the start of the second book), the stylists for the show have only begun to scratch the surface of the anti-style Harris shaped for Sookie.

Not that they are totally off. Sookie is usually seen in her Merlotte’s uniform or wearing something that looks like a sundress from Kmart. There was also this mindboggling scene near the end of the most recent session where she left the house wearing this:

Apparently, this hoodie is actually from Forever 21. As if they have one of those in Bon Temps.

This Charlotte Russe heart knit hoodie is hardly something you’d imagine a 27-year-old sleeping with vampires to wear. But I digress.

I love you, Claudia.

Now, if you ask me, the only literary character really worth their salt in style is Claudia Kishi of the Babysisters Club series, who I wanted to be sooooo badly as a preteen.* While Claudia would rock handmade earrings made of horse sand fire hydrants and wear mismatching shoes, Harris’ Sookie plays it boring and safe, and yet, we are often updated on her outfits. Perhaps this technique was meant to bring the reader all the more into the world Harris has created, but since we are giving relatively little by way of character motivation throughout the series, and since Harris likes to write by peppering her text with cliches like “happy as a clam” (on one occasion, she utilized this phrase twice in two pages), I am not going to give her that much credit.

So why is Sookie an anti-style hero? Well for one, Harris is realistic about the shopping possibilities for someone living in a small town in the deep South. Sookie does all of her shopping at Walmart, illuminating what I see as a stunning social commentary on the box store’s effect on low-populated areas, and Tara’s Togs, a fancy dress shop owned by Tara Thorton. Unfortunately, while Tara Thorton is known by television viewers as Sookie’s ass-kicking, takes no shit, now-lesbian, black best friend, in the books she is a peripheral character—one of Sookie’s few high school friends, who is white and ends up pregnant and married to the hot, dumb guy they went to high school with. Highly disappointing.

Issues in flat characterization aside, we are treated to some fabulous descriptions of how Sookie dresses early in the books. Clearly influenced by mainstream style in the early aughts, there is no doubt that Sookie was doing her best to look stunning given her meager resources. If anything, Harris has captured some of the best looks of that time period.

Witness if you will, how Sookie has been influenced by none other than fellow Southerner Britney Spears, in this extended passage from the second Sookie Stackhouse novel, Living Dead in Dallas:

Like this, but with lacing up the sides.**

“’Wear those tight blue jeans that lace up the sides,’ Bill suggested.

They weren’t denim at all, but some kind of stretchy stuff. Bill loved me in those jeans, which came down low. More than once, I had wondered if Bill had some kind of Britney Spears-fantasy thing going on. Since I was fully aware that I looked good in the jeans, I pulled them on, with a dark-blue-and-white-checked short sleeved shirt that buttoned up the front and stopped about two inches below my bra [note: this means “crop top,” which she calls out when she discusses her cold “pimply flesh” between the top of her low-rise stretchy stuff pants and this top]. Just to exhibit a little independence (after all, he’d better remember I was my own woman), I brushed my hair into a ponytail high up on my head. I pinned a blue bow over the elastic band and slapped on a little make up.”

Irresistible!

I mean, sexy, right? Harris is also rather realistic in knowing that even the youngest, hot-to-trot, vampire lover will do things like wear oversized t-shirts with cartoons on them to bed, like she does with a Tweety Bird shirt.

Sookie can afford to shop at Tara’s Togs on the vampire’s credit card, and this is where we see her going hog wild. While most of the time readers are treated to in-depth descriptions of her Merlotte’s work outfits (short sleeved and long sleeved white polos with “Merlotte’s” embroidered on the breast, black bottoms), it’s when Sookie shops at Tara’s Togs that we get a taste of what sort of style a pampered Sookie would channel.

Likewise, the lack of photo evidence of dresses with “detachable sleeves” seems to indicate that our culture is trying to stomp out the memory of said trend. This makes it all the more lucky that Harris has captured the moment forever.

While Sookie seems to start dressing more as a professional working woman on the set of Murphy Brown after a few trips to Tara’s Togs, it is in the third novel, Club Dead, when she really ups the ante to attend a werewolf bar. For this occasion, Sookie picks out an outfit that includes a skin-tight red dress, red shoes, and red detachable sleeves.*** Unfortunately, Sookie is involved in a scuffle while wearing this outfit, during which I believe her sleeves were damaged. 

SO much better than detachable sleeves.

What is really funny about this whole detachable sleeves situation is the fact that, while Sookie sees herself as being sexy and classy in this all-red outfit, she continuously rags on were-lynx/were-fox/werewolf**** Debbie Pelt’s biker chick style, which, in my mind, is a million times classier than detachable sleeves.

Sadly, as the series continues, Sookie gets less adventurous and more conservative in her looks. In fact, we are told so many times that she is lounging around the house wearing her “Fangtasia” t-shirt that it seems as though our little vampire lover has “given up.” Still, as long as Sookie veers away from pajama jeans (for those who want to look “classy” while being comfortable and busy), I’ll declare that she is a true anti-style icon.

*Happily, Kim documents the fabulous fashion writing of this series with her blog “What Claudia Wore,” which has delighted me for hours on end, proving that the ghost writers of the series knew the importance of describing outfit details to their adoring audience.

**Note: the very fact that it is so hard to find an image for “lace-up jeans” shows that this is a time we are trying to forget. May Sookie never let us forget. Also, why is there a stock photo of this?

***Unfortunately, there wasn’t a copy of Club Dead at my local library, so I am not able to share the exact outfit with you. If you think I should have spent my hard-earned money and just bought it, then you are out of your mind.

****Continuity is also not one of Harris’ strong suits.

About hollyhilgenberg

A freelance writer specializing in vintage, thrifted and resale fashion and critical media studies. Professional whim chaser and self-proclaimed Gemini. I blog over at Operation Sparkle (www.operationsparkle.com) and run the creative women zine C.L.A.P. (Creative Ladies are Powerful).

2 comments

  1. I like how Harris describes the exact number of inches between Sookie’s crop top and jeans. She takes that creative writing 101 advice–be specific! tell your story with details!–very seriously.

    I am also a longtime admirer of Claudia “The Artistic One” Kishi’s crazy outfits. How else was she supposed to distinguish herself from her sister Janine, who was LITERALLY A GENIUS?

  2. hollyhilgenberg

    I have to add that Appollonia, via Purple Rain, was one of the first to rock detachable sleeves, proving that this look “has what it takes.” Also, it is by pure coincidence that Jake has a picture of himself with a Sookie Stackhouse book on one of his most recent posts. I can’t take credit for his genius.

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