In just one short TV season, New Girl’s Zooey Deschanel has gone from a ukulele-strumming indie princess — of rock and film — to an omnipresent poster child for a new yet immediately overused word: adorkability. But beneath that grating made-up mash-up term lurks pretty clever branding for the hipster twirlyness that’s become Deschanel’s signature style, onscreen and off. The startling similarities between Deschanel and her alter ego Jess Day — you get the sense that both of them would, in a cartoon, have a menagerie of helpful and occasionally harmonizing animal friends — raise the question: Is this for real? Did Deschanel emerge from the womb in funky specs and a vintage-print swaddler, or has New Girl blown up her aesthetic to a proportion that exceeds even Zooey herself? Join us as we trace her red-carpet evolution, rating each look’s Adorkability Factor on a scale of 0 (anti-cutesy) to 10 (practically self-parody).
Why: The premiere of Anna and the King, a.k.a., a movie that we just learned starred Young Draco Malfoy.
What: This is one of those coats that could be vintage, or could be from Forever 21. But it’s also very relatably deployed, as a piece of interest paired with an otherwise monochrome outfit — which is what a lot of ladies do when we’re bored of our basic black but don’t know what else to wear.
Adorkability Factor: 3. Deschanel may have been ahead of the curve on offbeat outerwear, but not by much; otherwise, this is refreshingly mortal of her. It’s also so 1999 that we can almost hear the Spice Girls playing in the background.
Photo: Jim Smeal
Why: The premiere of Guy Ritchie’s Snatch
What: Somewhere in Hollywood, Zooey has felt a great disturbance in the Force. “They’ve found it,” she just murmured into a bird-printed handmade mug of organic, locally sourced tea.
Adorkability Factor: 0. Nowadays, she wouldn’t be caught dead in anything this poorly put-together and ill-fitting, to the point where we’re surprised she hasn’t yet invented a way to erase digital media.
Why: This event was formally called “Marc Anthony Pilots Jaguar’s Tribute to Style.” Just take a moment to let that sink in.
What: Our current working theory is that Zooey actually got lost to on the way to another event in the next building over, “The Fishnet Council of America’s Tribute to Misguided Hosiery Trends.”
Adorkability Factor: 8. This is trying so hard, it practically has sweat stains. Not for nothing, it is also hideous, which may explain why Marc Anthony is no longer piloting anyone’s tribute to style.
Photo: J. Vespa
Why: The Academy Awards
What: Oh no. The dress is trying to take the occasion seriously — and we’re sure the Academy appreciated that — but it looks like Cinderella’s helper mice crawled into a brown bag full of rum and then used it for inspiration.
Adorkability Factor: 3. The quirk gets swallowed by the crinkles.
Why: The Vanity Fair Oscar party
What: We’ve gone from “Cinderella late for the ball,” to “Cinderella late for her job as the ball’s bathroom attendant.”
Adorkability Factor: 9. Is it possible that she was in costume for a role as Eleanor Roosevelt in a straight-to-DVD indie film called The Great Depression: America’s Dowdiest Decades? Because we can’t think of another excuse for wearing something this calculatedly dour, and unflatteringly retro, to Hollywood’s sparkliest event. If Graydon Carter’s annual schmoozefest were sentient, the sight of this would actively hurt its feelings.
Photo: J. Vespa
Why: The Big Trouble premiere
What: Fraulein Maria once said that girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes were among her favorite things, but then again, she also made shorts out of curtains, so what does she know? Zooey looks like an Old Hollywood movie star who just unfroze herself from her cryogenic chamber and found an inexpensive little shoe store on the boulevard.
Adorkability Factor: 8. Terribly kitschy in a self-aware way — less adorkable than Bjorkable.
Photo: Albert L. Ortega
Why: The premiere of Abandon, a film in which Zooey plays second fiddle to Katie Holmes (who is herself playing against type, we hope, as a psychopath who – SPOILER, except you’re totally not going to see it — kills Charlie Hunnam with a rock).
What: Fancy Cigarette Girl feels like it would appeal to current-day Deschanel, although probably in a more baby-doll execution. The blonde hair, on the other hand, is kind of freaking us out.
Adorkability Factor: 4. Somehow she manages to look both exactly like herself, and like an entirely different person. Spooky.
Photo: Gregg DeGuire
Why: Some pre–MTV Movie Awards buffet
What: The parasol caps off the deliberately wacky aura created by pairing that shirt with a skirt that looks like dining room wallpaper.
Adorkability Factor: 8. Okay, we fully admit that if someone handed us a giant cocktail umbrella, we’d twirl it around all afternoon, too (or at least for five minutes, until it became impossible to hold our drinks and our snack plates). But since when does the MTV Movie Awards hand out cutesy retro accessories? At a buffet? We feel safe in assuming this is authentic Zooey kookiness. Zookiness? Turns out this mash-up word virus is contagious. Save yourself.
Photo: J. Vespa
Why: The Oscars
What: What a difference a year makes. The self-conscious darkness of the taffeta party dress, like a rebel at her First Communion, gave way to a more elegant and ladylike draped gown that’s interesting without being steeped in mannered oddness.
Adorkability Factor: 3 and 6, respectively. One of them is kinda dorky, one of them is kinda adorable; neither fulfills the fusion of the two.
Why: The awards season party circuit: InStyle’s Golden Globes after-party, the Independent Spirit Awards, and the Vanity Fair Oscar bash
What: Remember those old Gap ads, “Everybody in Khaki”? Zooey went through a period where her motto might as well have been, “Everybody in Skimpy Cocktail Dresses and Tights.” This is the period where she put her stamp on the red carpet — at least on her bottom half, where everyone came to know her by her signature 40 denier.
Adorkability Factor: 7. From the waist down she’s got Future Twee Zooey nailed; from the waist up, she looks like she might as well have been on The Hills.
Why: Los Angeles Fashion Week
What: Yes, L.A. Fashion Week is basically a joke. But there’s no need to dress like the punch line. JessDay would only wear this if she were in costume as hung over Minnie Mouse.
Adorkability Factor: 8. Then again, Jess Day would totally think, “For Halloween, maybe I’ll go as Minnie Mouse,” and then fall prey to adorable shenanigans that made her look like she hitched a ride to the party with a trucker. In that sense, this feels right.
Photo: Mark Davis/2006 Getty Images
Why: The Sundance premiere of The Go-Getter
What: This looks like the retro-cutesy Zooey Deschanel we know. Absent the pantyhose — which, we don’t even care if she’s being ironic, we are not adopting — this sixties-inspired metallic mini is awfully cute. And a total harbinger of what we’ve come to expect from her.
Adorkability Factor: 7. It’s like she did Mad Men before Mad Men did. Or perhaps “Mad Men for Banana Republic.”
Photo: George Pimentel
Why: Erin Fetherston’s New York Fashion Week runway show, which Zooey led off with a rendition of “Dream a Little Dream of Me” — otherwise known as, She before Him
What: We probably can’t blame Zooey for the eye makeup, since she was done up in keeping with Fetherston’s theme, but the overall effect — and possibly the reason she was a Fetherston devotee for so long — is vintage Deschanel: the black sheep fairy-sprite, the angel who trips and falls into a puddle or plays her harp on all the wrong clouds. Adorkable in its purest, battiest form.
Adorkability Factor: 10. All it’s missing are lensless thick-framed glasses.
Photo: Jemal Countess/Jemal Countess
Why: The Vanity Fair Oscar party again
What: This very grown-up silver Fendi is Zooey’d with the dark tights, but in this case, they play well off the dress itself. It’s the right blend of foxy and unfussy.
Adorkability Factor: 4. You could argue that her signature half-up, banged do is her way of trying to sneak in a dork factor, as if it keeps things from getting too sleek, but … we won’t, because she looks basically perfect.
Photo: Eric Charbonneau
Why: The premiere of Surf’s Up, in which Deschanel voices a penguin who, we assume, is now being subjected in its made-up penguinverse to this exact kind of study
What: This was when everyone was like, “Really, with the tights? Even in summer? Aren’t you hot? Do you have some kind of mysterious skin condition on your legs? What is happening here?”
Adorkability Factor: 7. Now give that pirate back his shirt.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz
Why: An appearance on Letterman
What: This is the balance Zooey hits best: cute but not cutesy.
Adorkability Factor: 3. She’s letting her quaint and self-conscious aura provide the “dorkable” part instead of straining to find clothes that do it for her. Well played, lady.
Photo: Soul Brother/2008 Soul Brother
Why: The Grammy awards
What: She should’ve stuck with Erin Fetherston: This competing dress, so similar to the one Zooey wore at her show in 2007, is the droopy upholstered version. Somewhere, Lady Gaga is turning over in her grave. You know, the one she’s having built for her arrival to next year’s Grammys so she can exhume herself right next to where some poor American Idol cast-off is trying to talk to Access Hollywood.
Adorkability Factor: 8. Lavender pantyhose? Imagine how much work it must have taken to be that matchy. We need to lie down.
Photo: Frazer Harrison/2009 Getty Images
Why: The premiere of (500) Days of Summer, the movie role that truly cemented Zooey’s quirk-and-bangs hipster charm.
What: Zooey’s Summer character basically looked exactly like the current bike-riding, vintage-pottery-collecting Zooey Deschanel real-world persona, in a way that suggests it came alive because of her and not simply through her (which is much the same issue she’s currently having with New Girl, where everyone thinks that to see it is to know her). Thus it was probably wise, and possibly prescient, for her to tone down the whole adorkable thing for this premiere.
Adorkability Factor: 4. It’s very Church Luncheon: serviceable, clean, demure, and certainly not in character. Even the bangs are stepping aside.
Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/2009 Getty Images
Why: The American Cinematographer Awards, about which we were going to crack that she’s “noted cinematography aficionado Zooey Deschanel,” until we remembered that her father is a cinematographer who got a lifetime achievement award at this very event, so she probably actually is. Oops.
What: A perfectly girly blue party dress, with a perfectly disheveled mop of hair and a perfectly ageless face.
Adorkability Factor: 10. Talk about 13 going on 30 — it’s Jess Day to a T. She’d totally ask a boy to go steady in that outfit before blurting out a nervous song about tacos, or something.
Photo: Frazer Harrison/2010 Getty Images
Why: The Vanity Fair Oscar party, yet again. Zooey’s public persona would lead you to think she spends every Oscar night hosting a pajama party and serving movie-themed cupcakes decorated by her woodland posse, but girlfriend never got an invitation to the Vanity Fair party that she didn’t accept.
What: Her hair is enviably glossy and shiny, but we want to either cut off those sleeves or rip off those tights. No need to coordinate your arms with your pantyhose, ladies, unless there’s been some kind of tragic self-tanning incident.
Adorkability Factor: 5. Tights issues notwithstanding, the dress itself suits her nicely and doesn’t overshadow.
Photo: Craig Barritt/2011 Getty Images
Why: The BAFTA Brits to Watch Event, or as everyone actually called it, “OMG That Party They’re Throwing for Will and Kate!!!!”
What: Aspects of this are adorable, sans dork. But something about it veers into Fairy Minstrel, as if she harbored plans to narrate the event for Prince William with a banjo and a throaty alto, until she ran afoul of L.A. traffic and the need to find sub-$20 parking.
Adorkability Factor: 7. One should wear metallic when meeting the future King of England, but one might also have hemmed it a touch. And that New Girl mop needed taming — had she seen Kate’s hair? At least try to keep up.
Photo: Todd Williamson/2011 Todd Williamson
Why: The premiere of Our Idiot Brother
What: Think Mrs. White from Clue plus Yvette, divided by an Elizabethan man’s neck ruff.
Adorkability Factor: 10. Even she seems a little uncomfortable to have turned herself into a clown college welcome basket.
Photo: Lester Cohen/2011 Lester Cohen
Why: The Emmys, two days before the successful debut of New Girl
What: Already featured in full adorkable mode on billboards and in magazines nationwide — and possibly beyond — Zooey didn’t shy away from Girly Girl at the Emmys, but also didn’t go so far as to look like the type of person who writes her own theme song (beyond being paid to do it for her job).
Adorkability Factor: 6. The fussily unfussy hair projects the Regular Gal vibe that’s become central to her persona as an anti-starlet, but you still get the sense two birds might have tied that ribbon around her waist.
Photo: Jordan Strauss/2011 Jordan Strauss
Why: Zooey sang the National Anthem at Game 4 of the World Series
What: Well. She looks patriotic — as she should, given that she’s wearing what looks like presidential bunting as a gown. But who wears heels to a baseball game? At least compromise with a wedge, sister.
Adorkability Factor: 10. Are you kidding us with this? This outfit is straight out of a New Girl episode wherein Schmidt tries to invent the World Series equivalent of the Lingerie Bowl, but gets waylaid by making geometrically accurate cupcake balls.
Photo: Pool/2011 Getty Images
Why: The Golden Globes and the WGA Awards
What: Deschanel, faced with accusations that she’s essentially playing herself on TV, did a great job creating distance between Zooey and Jess by toning down her red-carpet appearances. These looks still have plenty of personality, but are also appropriately sophisticated. We heard a few complaints that Zooey’s custom Prada looked like Kermit threw up on her chest, but we actually really liked the glittery green art-deco bodice. And the plaid gown feels like Hip Governess, rather than Wide-Eyed Disney Character.
Adorkability Factor: 5 and 6. The wispy sideburns on her Globes hairpiece (not totally visible here) kick it up a notch away from funky glamour and toward the Sixties Nostalgia district of Quirk Central. As for the other, well, let’s be honest: It’s still plaid, a pattern beloved by adorable dorks the world over.
Why: A party for Paul McCartney
What: … Thud. Somebody should cue Marlon Brando shaking his fist and screaming, “Stellaaaa,” to play on a loop in Ms. McCartney’s design studio. This looks more like Toddlers and Tiaras than an item for a grown woman who probably felt torn between hoisting it up and risking a Privates Party, or letting it hang and chancing a nip slip.
Adorkability Factor: 11. Too twee even for the word. It needs a new hybrid: Zweey. At the same time, it can’t be easy to have your wardrobe suddenly labeled, highlighted, and treated by the world as if it’s your Ladystyle Manifesto, simultaneously lauded as everything that’s right with being girly and rudely pilloried as everything that’s wrong with it. Faced with all that pressure, we actually think Zooey is doing an admirable job trying to keep hold of her true self. It’s not her fault she’s naturally adorkable. Beats “adisasterable,” at least.
Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/2012 Getty Images