Really it all goes back to this picture.
It’s January 22nd, 2008, and I am strewn across the carpet of the Hampshire College Queer Community Alliance Center. My mascara is smeared, everyone’s is if they are wearing it, and we are speaking in hushed tones and gulping back Andre out of plastic cups. Earlier that day I received a text that Heath Ledger had been found dead in his 4th floor loft in Soho and to celebrate his life I’d assembled a few friends to watch Brokeback Mountain. The credits rolled, a few tears were shed, and I announced we were to cut my hair. After some light googling I found the picture I’d and my friend Rance set to work, transforming my shaggy shoulder length curls into something magical.
If I were to trace my femme-fashion root all the way back through time, I’d place it back in 2001 when I was in the 7th grade and sitting in a cool dark movie theater , probably wearing an Abercrombie sweater and watching “A Knight’s Tale”. Of course I’d heard about her, Shannyn Sossamon, she’d been a DJ right? Plucked from obscurity (well, a gig at Gwyneth Paltrow’s birthday party) and anointed as the latest It Girl. I read Seventeen Magazine religiously back then, and still blame my anxiety around wearing white shorts on my overexposure to pulpy teen mags. Anyhow, I’d gone for Heath, as all my girlfriends went for Heath, but I stayed for Shannyn.
Let’s suspend reality for a minute, forget the silly and overwrought conceit that sought to marry 70s arena rock with a medieval tale of honor and jousting. Forget bad accents and naked Paul Bettany (ew), what we should remember of A Knight’s Tale is Shannyn Sossamon’s triumphant entry into my style vernacular. In A Knight’s Tale she plays a disaffected princess, her rebellion coded into her impeccably edgy, plunging necklines, and shimmering green-gold eyeshadow. Needless to say I revisit this movie whenever preparing for a big event.
Both onscreen and on the page of magazines, Shannyn Sossamon’s style is a jumble of contradictions with sublime results, walking the line between high-femme and tomboy, quirky and practical, vintage and ultra modern. Whether this is the calculated effort of a brand or if she’s styled as she dresses in real life, I don’t really know. The cohesion of her styling from role to role is remarkable; it’s as if she herself is the character, moving from story to story. I want to discuss these early roles and their influence on the development of my style as a femme.
Please don’t watch “The Rules of Attraction”. I did it for you, so you can avoid the overwrought and quite frankly disturbing tale of East Coast liberal arts college debauchery. Ugh. I wish I could have the hour that I spent watching it last night back. I fast-forwarded through all the non-Shannyn parts and still emerged with feeling of time lost. When I first saw the movie in 2003 I was enamoured with her outfits, flouncy jersey-knit skirts worn with chubby platform sandals or sneakers for skateboarding. She rocks cropped turtlenecks and frilly high-collared blouses with messy grown-out hair and luscious full brows and manages to look effortlessly cool. Today I still love her brows and the audacity of sneakers with a skirt.
However, I do not condone the newsboy cap. In fact, burn all newsboy caps. Thank you.
I didn’t bother re-watching “40 Days and 40 Nights” , the tale of a lothario, played by Josh Hartnett, who swears off sex for Lent and is tested when he meets a cyber nanny (don’t ask), played by Ms. Sossamon. In the film she sports her typical high-low girl Friday attire, mixing oversized hoops with a polished trench coat, a porcupine spiky updo with a simple black dress.
As a queer teenaged girl in suburban Maryland who preferred vintage dresses to cargo shorts, Shannyn Sossamon served as a style touchstone, proving that one could be a fierce, weird, and sexy femme. Despite the fact that she always played the romantic interest to a stable of Hollywood studs (Heath Ledger, James Van Der Beek, Josh Hartnett, etc.), in my mind’s eye she was always the coolest queer girl. When sneaking into my first gay club at the age of 16 I tried copied her trench and hoops look.
And of course, the picture. I’ve chopped my hair off twice, both times inspired by this look. Of course it always turns out different; my hair’s natural texture evokes early Shirley Temple, but the inspiration still serves to turn out a cool cut. Shortly after my first foray into Sossamon shortness I was approached at a party by this girl, this fucking girl, upon whom I’d been crushing madly for months. She looked me up and down and said “I like it. I guess this is the real you.” And of course we went home together. And it was messy and she was mean, but that’s not the point. The phrase has echoed in my head for years, the idea of “the real me” and how it applies to my style. At college there was a trend, or was it a developmental milestone, when queers, upon arriving at campus, got their “Smith Haircut”. The chop usually occurred during their freshman or sophomore year, and it was widely seen as a declaration of sexual orientation. Mine certainly was. I wanted to be let into the club, seen and recognized as a queer girl on the prowl, and my hair most certainly signaled my intention. I have never gotten as much attention as I did right after the cut.
Of course the novelty faded, and after about a year I began the arduous growing-out process, which is another story entirely. While Shannyn Sossamon seems to thrive with awkward in-between hair, I just hid in my dorm for a semester and watched the entirety of The Wire on dvd until I had a presentable bob, which honestly felt a lot more like my natural style.
Today I still search her on tumblr when I am late to a party and still undressed. Despite the newsboy cap that she sports in at least 2 of the 3 movies I studied, she is the one relic of early 2000s fashion that I feels fresh and relevant today. Yes, she named her baby Audio Science and no, I have no idea what she is up to today, but let’s take this Friday to muss up our hair and honor my original femmespiration, Ms. Shannyn Sossamon.