3862610388_e493c478d9 "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita." - Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Chilling, isn't it? There's something so fundamentally wrong there, and yet, I would be lying if I said I don't find it intriguing. Then again, I'm the kind of person who is comfortable with the fact that the dark side of human nature holds a certain fascination for me. In Art. Like most people, when the dark side crops up in the supermarket aisle, not so much.

Admittedly, the concept of the Ingénue and the concept of the Lolita aren't identical, but as I hope to demonstrate in this article, they're not different enough for me to feel comfortable. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Many of you are wondering - what on earth is an Ingénue? Glad you asked. Generally, I find it a bit trite to go to the dictionary in these cases, but let's pop in there anyhow.

noun: ingénue; plural noun: ingénues
  1. 1.
    an innocent or unsophisticated young woman.
    • a part of an ingénue in a play.
    • an actress who plays an ingénue.

True, the term is occasionally used to describe any young actress in her breakout role. Often because in said role, she plays the aforementioned "innocent or unsophisticated young woman". I do think this concept of the young actress is somewhat apart in meaning from what is intended when women and analysts talk about Ingénue as a style type, but let me just ask you something. How old do you picture the actress who is being referred to as an Ingénue being? Under 25, surely? Quite possibly even under 20? I would be very surprised to find this woman people have been referring to in this manner is 32, and I can't even imagine she'd be 50. So just putting that out there and we'll come back to it. Let's look at a more specifically relevant source.

Admittedly, this is subculture. But if you remove the most outlandish bits, it's pretty much "ingenue". In what context would that feel normal?

From Art and Fashion in Clothing Selection by Harriet McJimsey:

"The word ingenue is chose to describe the most yin type, which is particularly naive, unsophisticated, artless, and even childlike. The direct opposite of the dramatic yang, the ingenue is dainty, young, delicate in build and coloring, below average in height, and always charmingly pretty rather than sophisticated." (page 96)

Also: "Since the yin quality is essentially youthful, it is rare to find anyone over sixteen who is a perfect ingenue." (page 96)

And: "Because of her dainty build, small scale, and youthful "little girl" look, the ingenue must always select clothes which reflect her youth and daintiness." (Page 98)

I'd be surprised if there are many of you out there thinking this physical description matches you, but that's somewhat besides the point. What I do think you're out there saying is "Yup, that's me, charmingly pretty rather than sophisticated!" So let's head back to the dreaded dictionary and see just what it is that means.

adjective: sophisticated
  1. 1.
    • (of a person or their thoughts, reactions, and understanding) aware of and able to interpret complex issues; subtle.
      "discussion and reflection are necessary for a sophisticated response to a text"
    • having, revealing, or proceeding from a great deal of worldly experience and knowledge of fashion and culture.
      "a chic, sophisticated woman"
  • appealing to people with worldly knowledge or experience.
  • "a sophisticated restaurant"
I can't think of a reason why an adult woman would willing relinquish the appearance of being "aware of and able to interpret complex issues". It has been suggested to me that I am fixating on the negative aspect of the ingénue image type in calling it naive. After all, could we not call the Romantic "tarty", the Dramatic "severe", and so on? Quite true, in very much the same way the person who wishes to shine an unflattering light on soft colors calls them drab or dull and the person who wishes to do the same to bright colors calls them garish or glaring. Here's the crimp in that logic when it comes to ingénue: try though I might, the best positive spin I can get out of naivete is to call it innocence. And innocence, while beautiful, sweet, and pure, is not for grown-ups.

Are you uncomfortable? Me too.

Innocence doesn't belong in the board room. It doesn't belong in the PTA. And a huge, HUGE part of that is, that innocence is virginal. It is not appropriate for a mother of 2 with a desk job. The fact of the matter is, in order to look like a competent, capable adult woman in her prime, you want to project the idea, on a very subtle, subconscious level, that you are neither too young nor too old to have sex and procreate. Whether or not you have any interest in doing so is absolutely irrelevant. Deep in our monkey brains, this is how we distinguish a functioning adult of the species from those who are children or "out to pasture". I find it a slippery slope between expecting someone to accept a woman dressed as a "dainty little girl" as an adult and the Lolita concept I began this article with.
So far, this has been pretty conceptual, which I understand won't do much for some of you. So, I want to give you a practical example, using one of the ingénue examples from McJimsey's book quoted above, the beloved Shirley Jones. Shirley has had a long and wonderful career, beginning at a very young age, so we have access to photos of her throughout her adult life.


Here she is at the dawn of her career, starring in Oklahoma! in 1955 at age 21. (I have seen sources say she was 19, which she may have been during filming, but since I can't seem to confirm that, let's err on the older side.) Her costume in this scene, and indeed all of her costumes in the movie, are most certainly ingenue. I feel it would be fair to say that if you shortened most of them to knee-length and removed a few minor anachronistic details, they'd fit right in with the modern clothes that are generally suggested for this image type. The whole look is reasonably believable on her, maybe in part because even though it's 1906 in the movie, we still know it's the 1950s, but let's assume she'd look normal in this sort of thing at age 21 if it happened to be today. I do think it's worth pointing out that the character of Laurey also fits the ingenue bill. She's easily taken in, flighty, and if she weren't so very young, you'd say she was foolish. Which is not to say she's not charming, but while I can remember wanting to be her at 10 or 12, at 28 I'd be embarrassed to be. http://youtu.be/JLDsLeVxOaU

Let's check in with Shirley just 7 years later, at age 28, starring in The Music Man this time. Still a young woman by most anyone's standards, but getting towards the end of the range I described for our ingenue actress above. Sure enough, the costume designers have moved her past the gingham, bib collars and ponytail into something still sweet, but definitely more mature. She's also portraying a much more "sophisticated" character, Marian is the one person in town Harold Hill is afraid he won't be able to fool. I believe that none of this is accidental - she's gotten older and more mature and her roles and costumes have, too. It may be others will disagree here, but already, still in her twenties, I feel she'd make us subtly uncomfortable in the "little girl" clothes she wore a few years before. A much more subtle version of the discomfort we feel from the girl with the lollipop above, but still there. If you disagree, follow her further into adulthood with me.


Ok, next stop Partridge Family, 1970. (Sorry, I looked for a shorter clip, but you don't need to watch much to get the point) Shirley is in her mid-thirties. While doing research for this article, I found out that "Shirley Partridge" was not just a tv mom, but tv's first working mother. In other words, an adult, capable of procreation, who is competent to do work. I admit, I was never much for this show, so if you tell me they're always telling her she "looks like one of the kids" or some such in the many episodes I haven't seen, I wouldn't know otherwise, but even so, it'd just be flattery, wouldn't it? Because she looks 100% like a grown-up to me. I'm not saying her look here is the most flattering, but do you want to put her back in the ruffley collar and ponytail? How about if she came up to you at this age, in your real life, dressed like the girl in Oklahoma! and said "These are my five kids!"? Either you would be confused and heavily off put by the adult woman in a teenager's dress, or you would be wondering why this teenager was claiming to be the mother of five children. Either way, not good.


In the interest of letting you get back to your day, I am fast forwarding to Shirley as a mature adult. This seems to be her performance at the White House in the mid-eighties, putting her around age 50. The look is dated, but I don't completely hate it. But just one last time, I ask you to imagine this person in the dresses she wore in Oklahoma!. For me, at this point, there is no way to make that look sane, let alone competent. I'm not picking on Shirley, I think she is an incredibly beautiful and talented woman. But if 50 year old Shirley came towards me in that gingham frock from her early career, I'd consider crossing the street. Those of you who wouldn't are exceptionally open minded and kind, I think much more so than most people, certainly most people I know.

For me, image type doesn't change with age. (Nor weight, or other factors, possibly excepting excessive plastic surgery, most specifically to the face, but in those cases I just am no longer really sure how to type the individual.) Certainly, we modify the version of our type we are expressing currently to be age-appropriate, but it should be relatively minor. Most mature women overdo it, in the same manner a mature Winter who tries to soften her colors to look age-appropriate just looks tireder and older. The fact is, the women in their late teens and very early twenties who could benefit from allowing some last bit of innocence to remain a part of their style aren't the ones who I see asking about ingénue, or being told they are one by other professionals. If these young girls were my clients, I'd just tell them how to do an age appropriate version of whatever type they are, which I think is more authentic than taking on an image type that you necessarily have to abandon at some point down the line to look like a functioning member of society.

There's so much more I could say about this topic, but I think the best action may happen in the comments on this one, so I'm happy to discuss any further issues you may have with my position on this below.