Style icon: Clementine (or, What a Fictional Character’s Hair Colour Taught me About Myself)

When we first meet Clementine Kruczynski (played by Kate Winslet) in Michel Gondry’s 2004 film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, she has blue hair. Introducing herself on a bus to Jim Carrey’s Joel Barish, she explains her reasoning behind the dye job. “It changes colour a lot,” she says. “It’s called Blue Ruin…this company makes a whole bunch of colours with equally snappy names. I apply my personality in a paste.” In watching this movie for the first time I may or may not have yelled at my TV screen, “Geez Clementine, why don’t you just wear a sign around your neck that says ‘tra la la, I’m so quirky!’” (I might have a problem with contrived one-dimensional “offbeat” film characters – yeah, I’m looking at you, Natalie Portman in Garden State). Of course, to the film’s credit, Clementine turns out to be a well-developed character and the movie escapes many typical clichés, earning Oscar nods for both Winslet and the screenplay. The reasons behind its success are evident – but since we are on a fashion blog, I will be focusing solely on Clementine’s hair.

As the film unfolds in a non-linear fashion (hey, it worked hard for that best original screenplay Oscar!), Clementine’s hair colour changes from blue to orange to red to green. While I gotta love any movie that treats a personal styling choice as a plot device – the hair colour helps keep track of the movie’s constantly shifting timeline – more appealing still is the way that it is unapologetically treated as a realistic artistic outlet. Clementine isn’t the first film character to express herself via hair colour; honourable mentions go to My So Called Life’s Angela Chase, Ghost World’s Enid Coleslaw and Whip It’s Bliss Cavendar. However, there’s something to be said for a woman who is more than a couple of years past teenager-dom willing to repeatedly experiment with crayola-coloured hair.

My own adventures with hair dye start a bit younger; going to summer camp in the ’90s, hair mascara was all the rage. The smelly, sparkly, purple-y goop joined Bonnebelle lip smackers and Caboodles nail polish as the must-have beauty products for the preteen girl set. Once I got to middle school, I was met with a strict dress code that deemed any unnatural or dramatic hair colours to be an “academic distraction.” My mother used to take me to her hair salon to get blonde highlights (occasionally I would be able to sneak by with a little bit of red in there). I made it through the eighth grade with the secret knowledge that at the back of my closet hid a bottle of L’Oreal do-it-yourself hair colouring in Purest Black.

From the first day (on the dot) after my eighth grade graduation throughout the bulk of high school, all I would need to change my hair colour was a quick trip to Shoppers Drug Mart and 45 minutes crouched over the bathroom sink with an applicator brush in hand. While black was my go-to shade of choice, I would occasionally experiment with the worlds of burgundy, plum, or other teen-angst-approved colours. Granted, I never went as artificially bright in my picks as Ms. Kruzcynski over here, but I could appreciate her need to express herself (and mark major changes in her life) with the help of some pigmented cream.

Unlike Clementine, I’ve somewhat outgrown my home-colouring ways. Purple locks aren’t as fun when it comes time to hunt for a job, and at-home hair treatments become a bit trickier when you live in a dorm and share a bathroom sink with 40 other people. Still, whenever I’m in the drugstore, I always make a point to stop at the aisle that carries all the shades of Manic Panic, tempted to give in to the little voice in my head (that sounds suspiciously like Kate Winslet with an American accent) saying, “do it! do it!”

-Anna Fitz

21 thoughts on “Style icon: Clementine (or, What a Fictional Character’s Hair Colour Taught me About Myself)

  1. I’ll never forget when Angela Chase walked into my life and my hair dying phase started. For some reason in 7th grade (in the 90s) there was a trend of dying your hair with koolaid. I somehow encouraged my mom to do this for me…and it was a hot mess. Then I introduced Manic Panic into my life and never turned back. I think I’ve tried every single color that they make. I’m 26 and I still play around with the colors from time to time and currently my tub is a lovely shade of “vampire red”.

  2. Nice post! I love Clementine and relate to her hair adventures a lot. And as for picking up some manic panic – you should do it – maybe just a little stripe in your hair that can be tucked away during interviews. :) (It can always be removed!)
    I’ve been dying my hair crazy colors for over 10 years now, and this line you wrote really hits home: “…but I could appreciate her need to express herself (and mark major changes in her life) with the help of some pigmented cream.” I feel like that is exactly what is going on when I dye my hair. My hair colors typically change with the cycles of life – I’ll stick with one for several months or years and then change it when I change as a person. I find it kinda neat that I remember events or periods of my life based on what color my hair was – its almost like an organization system for me.

  3. I don’t have anything (constructive) to say but I love this post (obviously). Also also also, I can always tell when it’s you writing, Anna. I also follow Athena and I can immediately pick you out from the others :D. Just had to mention that.

  4. Things I always say I want to do but have never done:

    1) Watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    2) Dye my hair a crazy colour.

    This post is a very convincing argument for both!

    Like Betsey above, I’ve been especially obsessed with crazy hair colour since watching My So-Called Life – Angela Chase’s shiny, vibrant red is just so freaking cool.

  5. Heh heh – my first experience with hair dye was… SUN-IN! Hello, Duran Duran.
    I love the way women use their hair to express themselves. I guess because it’s the one thing you can change most readily (and change back, which is nice). Since I was just around 13, I have always grown my hair out until some drastic thing happens (moves, breakups) and then, no matter how long it is, I just hack it all off. Good times!
    My mom once said you could tell when the best time of a person’s life was by their hairstyle – because they often keep the look that was fashionable when they were happiest. I can’t decide if that’s amazing or depressing… heh.

  6. I am soo soo tempted to dye my hair an unnatural color. I’m in the prime of my angsty teen years, but I just don’t feel cool enough to do it!

    This was such a great post! I love this movie.

  7. God, I’ve done sun in, kool aid, henna, blondissima…if they put it in a box and sold it at the drug store in my small town of Pemberton, I slapped it on my hair. I wasn’t lucky enough to have access to anything remotely cool. (Though I was thankfully too old for hair mascara, that stuff was just a bad idea….)

    I have been flirting with the idea of going redhead, but my hair just goes so frizzy and I never have time to actually take CARE of it…I guess as alternative as I’m going to be for a while is trimming my bangs in the sink in the morning.

  8. Wix,
    Oh, I’m definitely more than aware of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I’m actually working on a post about it for a feminist blog I write for (in which I use the exact same Garden State joke). On that same token, I don’t like it when critics dismiss every mildly “quirky” girl as a MPDG which is why I get defensive over clementine :P.

    (pst…I too was 14 when the movie came out, grannie forsyth)

  9. I’ve actually never seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – but this post makes me want to! Any time I see photos from movies of chicks with crazy hair, I feel like I’ve gotta rent it. Here’s what was proably my craziest ‘do:

    Well, that’s with a mohawk and funky colors anyways. My craziest was probably the blue in back with a rainbow in front while having a mohawk, but I don’t seem to have any photos of that.

    (and “crazy” here is probably relative, since I’ve got a pile of purple & red dye sitting on my head right now!)

  10. This is exactly one of the reasons I love Charlie Kauffman so much! As you so rightly noted, here, and in other films of his, the personal style of a character is not simply an afterthought. It is an essential part of the character development and how that character communicates to the audience. And in this case, it’s an essential plot element.

    He’s one of my absolute favorite screen writers. Thank you for reminding me of another aspect to his writing. I now must go revist his films.

    Btw, great post!

  11. If Forsyth’s a granny, there must be no hope for me…. This movie came out when I was on an extended trip in Europe and I saw it in Liverpool with a good friend and two of her friends from over there; the thing that I thought was neat was when we came out of the theatre, my friend and I both thought it was a depressing ending (i.e. we’re doomed to just repeat our stupid, unfulfilling patterns over and over) whereas her two friends came away with the complete opposite feeling, that it was happy (i.e. everyone has a second chance to make things right). Either way, I love the movie (and also Jim Carrey — have I ever mentioned how devoted I am to him? Since the days of In Living Color, I tell you). I have pictures somewhere of the German movie poster I took in Berlin (it all comes full circle now…).

    Nice post, Anna! I really resent the free-spirited, quirky pixie girl character trope too! AND, I HATED Garden State. I never understood why people were so obsessed with it — I found it beyond contrived, ESPECIALLY Natalie Portman’s character.

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