Because I am the kind of person I am, I was having a conversation with one of my friends (she who was the unnamed fangbanger in the True Blood party pictures) about clothesmeta today. I mentioned how much fun coming up with clothesmeta regarding Pam was, and she in turn mentioned that a lot of the characters on True Blood really are dressed with intent. “Except Jessica,” she then commented. “I feel like they just sort of put Jessica in clothes.” Without them being meaningful, that is to say. And I thought about this. And then I replied, “I think that’s at least somewhat to do with the fact that she’s still figuring out who she is.” We then discussed this for a little while longer, but also because I am the kind of person I am, I have to go through and prove this theory. Because clothesmeta is fun, and because I do adore Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll).
The more I think about it, the more I realize it’s true. Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten), as I before discussed, presents constantly. Sophie-Anne (Evan Rachel Wood), back in the day, was definitely tied to a very specific presentation. Salome (Valentina Cervi) and Nora (Lucy Griffiths)? Presenting on the regular. Also in very deliberate ways. And despite being technically vampire-younger, Tara (Rutina Wesley) doesn’t have the same aesthetic ambivalence that Jess does, both because Tara has always known more or less who she is and because at least so far in her unlife Tara has basically been Pam’s life-size doll to play dress-up with. Jessica, on the other hand, has been trying this whole time just to figure out who the hell she is and what the hell that means.
When we first meet Jessica in 1×10, “I Don’t Wanna Know” (and then continuing into the above, 1×11, “To Love is to Bury”), she’s dressed as a “good girl.” She’s a teenager, seventeen to be exact (which seems to be synonymous with capital-letters REBELLION in fiction), who comes from a very repressed background: hyperreligious (her little sister, we learn later, is named Eden), strict, control-freaky, and abusive parents. (Also learned later is that these tendencies seem to run in her family.) She’s a good girl whose first major bad act, sneaking out, led to being captured and turned into a vampire by Bill (Stephen Moyer). She has her sweet little floral blue dress, not at all revealing, not at all tight, not at all distinctive. (And thinking that this was what she wore for a night of sneaking out, it’s probably the least “not at all” dress she owned.) And then Bill, someone who several times over has at least somewhat reflected her biological parents’ behavior, turns her over to Pam and Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) for a little while. When she returns in 1×12, “You’ll Be the Death of Me” (and then continuing into the above, 2×01, “Nothing But the Blood”), Jessica is dressed as her approximation of a “bad girl”: black low-cut tank top, black stockings, black bracelets, plaid mini-skirt, studded belts and choker. It’s at least the same color/texture scheme of Goth Punk Barbie, it’s everything she wasn’t allowed to be before and probably saw on the cool rebel girls her age. Our first introduction to Jessica is Good Christian Jessica, which isn’t entirely who she is; she then goes completely the opposite direction, with Bad Punk Vampire Jessica, which isn’t entirely who she is either.
So for a tiny while, Jess is in stasis. She doesn’t know what she wants to present, she doesn’t know what Bill wants her to present (he’s pretty specific about not liking the Goth Punk Barbie look), so she’s basically sitting around his mansion in her Dollstate jammies. The yellow dress of 2×02, “Keep This Party Going,” and 2×03, “Scratches,” as seen above, is one of the Cotton Candy Jessica outfits, the first of them. It’s a compromise of sorts: not the lifeless, repressed nonfashion of what her parents insisted on, but still probably part of the wardrobe that Bill selected and approved of for her. It’s still “sweet girl” without being too, too “good girl,” it’s youthful without being infantilizing. She curls her hair to go out, she combs and pins it back, but despite the fact that Bill picked these clothes out for her, she’s at least making decisions about how to style herself. Also noteworthy is that, while she still sometimes opts for loose curls in later seasons, the tight ringlets there are pretty strictly season 2, evidence of something she tries and then apparently grows out of emotionally.
2×04, “Shake and Fingerpop,” and 2×05, “Never Let Me Go.” More of the curly hair and cute colors Cotton Candy Jessica. Given Jessica’s upbringing, it’s reasonable to assume that gender roles were a normal thing assigned to her, but given what little we see her wearing from that life, it’s not necessarily cute-feminine. These light colors and ruffles and whatnot represent an overt embracing (not the only way to embrace, mind you, but a way to embrace) something that was probably deemed negative: taking too much pride in one’s appearance, taking too much effort with one’s appearance, even the feminine itself, which likely had Biblically negative connotations in Jessica’s father’s eyes. Goth Punk Barbie was a costume for Jessica, but this is something that, while different, she seems a bit more natural at. And given that she is often (due largely to lack of vampire experience) the naive one in the room, it’s reasonable that she’s for now in relatively innocent colors.
By season 3, Jessica’s default has mellowed even more. She’s still colorful, still doing things with her (absolutely gorgeous) hair, but as seen here with 3×01, “Bad Blood,” and 3×03, “It Hurts Me Too,” she’s grown up a bit. Season 2 Jess is still getting the hang of just having a new life; season 3 Jess is at least more comfortable with that. Comfort is the thing here, and it continues to be so for the rest of the season. She may not know who she is yet, exactly, but she’s gotten a decent hang of where she is. Incidentally, another reason it can seem like Jessica’s clothes aren’t necessarily as meaningful as the other particularly vampire women of the show’s clothes is that, well, Jessica is sort of the “normal” one. While she’s still figuring out what she wants to present overall and still does use her clothes to her advantage in that way, her default is very Forever 21, BP at Nordstrom, occasionally Anthropologie. For her, “normal” is still a rebellion of sorts from her human life.
This is my ode to Jessica’s hairstyles while she’s at work. 3×05, “Trouble,” and 4×06, “I Wish I Was the Moon”: what I love about this is that sure, she’s going to work, she needs to keep her hair relatively out of her face and presentable, but when she’s not doing something with braids and ponytails or headbands, she tends toward these cute retro-looking styles. And that’s cute, and because these start when she’s basically independent, I’m going to say that this wasn’t anyone’s idea but her own.
And then 4×02, “You Smell Like Dinner,” rolls around. Jessica has basically been “playing house” with Hoyt (Jim Parrack), her first love. They’re trying to make it work out, and she’s definitely presenting for him, inadvertently or deliberately or maybe a bit of both. Never before have we seen Suburban Farmgirl Jessica, with the flannel and the hair back in a messy bun, and there are only two instances of Jess opting for something like a messy bun, and the other is in season 5 after she’s, you know, been kidnapped and silvered and threatened with death all night. It would seem to be her way of saying “oh, screw it.” It’s not an act of giving up or giving in, exactly, it’s just potentially an act of being tired, and a year of playing house with Hoyt has left her tired. As Pam observes in 4×01, “She’s Not There,” when Jessica and Hoyt drop in on Fangtasia one night, “He seems sweet and all, but if you’re making him bring you here, I have a hunch that it’s not enough.” (Because really, Pam is the Cool Older Cousin Who’s Basically A Sister But Don’t Let Her Hear You Saying That in this situation. And most situations involving Jessica.) Upon returning to Fangtasia soon after that without Hoyt, in the same night of the flannel and the messy bun, Jess quickly strips down to a much brighter and snazzier tank top, she literally lets her hair down. This is getting closer to the colorful default tank top Jessica of season 3, though with an extra edge of Sexy because that’s what she perceives Fangtasia as requiring.
Then, after more episodes of flannel and the Merlotte’s work t-shirt and default tank tops (because when Jessica isn’t consciously presenting, she does default, and that’s comfort both physical and personal more than anything), we have the first two efforts at and instances of Big Girl Vampire Jessica. I’ve said before and I will say again, every self-respecting vampire owns a leather jacket, but this, 4×10, “Burning Down the House,” and continued as above in 4×11, “Soul of Fire,” is Jessica’s first leather jacket. One sported, as I noted in my analysis of Pam, while no other vampires present are actually doing leather. She’s getting definitely more comfortable with her vampire badassery and definitely more comfortable with using her vampire powers for good and not having them ultimately create a semi-dependent state that is rejected, as with Hoyt. She’s finally beginning to come into her own, vampire-wise. And then 4×12, “And When I Die,” we have another first for Jessica, one key (thought not as compulsory) for lady vampires: first corset. Yes, hers is for Halloween, because if you wear something red under a red cloak, you can basically be Sexy Little Red Riding Hood no matter what, but this makes sense. Jessica’s life is different from Pam’s and Tara’s: she’s not consciously presenting a human’s idea of Sexy Vampire every night. She doesn’t live a corset life, really. But she’s found her reason for one, and it’s for her own purposes: while she’s wearing it to go see Jason (Ryan Kwanten) and make with the sexy, it’s a costume chosen by her, presumably because she likes the way it makes her feel.
Then for the first episodes of season 5, 5×01, “Turn, Turn, Turn” and 5×02, “Authority Always Wins,” we have a different kind of quasi-bad girl Jessica. She’s made pseudo-friends with some college kids while her vampire dad King Bill is off doing… whatever. As she told Steve Newlin (Michael McMillan), “that basically makes me the queen.” She isn’t abusing her potential power, per se, but she’s definitely enjoying it: coming out of a long relationship and taking a break from being attacked by and then attacking an evil possessed witch, she needs the relative R&R that comes from not having to worry about anything. And she’s not worrying. She’s hanging out, playing Rock Band and holding their beer kegs for them, having a good time like “normal” kids do. Party Girl Jessica takes on an almost 1980s style; the pink dress is 2007 Betsey Johnson, but even recent Betsey Johnson can and often does feel somewhat 1980s. Party Girl Jessica is just barely dipping her toe in the “bad girl” pool while still staying cute, young, and not Goth Punk Barbie.
But… then here comes Goth Punk Barbie once more, in 5×05, “Let’s Boot and Rally,” and 5×08, “Somebody That I Used To Know.” Both of these instances, unlike when she was a baby baby vamp and dressing like that around the house, are specifically for Fangtasia: she’s assumedly realized from observing Pam or from observing other vampires that dressing in an edgy, “vampiric” way around the vampire bar helps to pick up fangbangers, which is a goal of her being at Fangtasia. At this point, she’s somewhat rudderless: she’s unmoored from that relationship with Hoyt, from whatever she had or didn’t have with Jason (even though she wants it back), from even her college buddies. Fangtasia, though something she has to present for, and not necessarily a place of warm fuzzies for her, is familiar, and she seeks it out, hoping perhaps to figure out who she ought to be by being more typically vampire.
Then 5×10, “Gone, Gone, Gone,” rolls around. Both of the times seen above that she’s Goth Punk Barbie-ing for the Fangtasia crowd, she deals with her ex Hoyt in some way and deals with her vampire nature in relation thereto some way. She’s not ashamed of it by any means, but she’s starting, perhaps, to realize what she’s more comfortable with. She’s not a Goth Punk Barbie girl, at least not every day, and that’s all right. In order to bring the Hoyt situation to an end once and for all, she has to be herself-herself to do it, or at least what herself-herself means right now: cute jewelry (I haven’t had it confirmed or been able to confirm it myself, but I’m fairly sure her earrings here and probably other times are Betsey Johnson as well), bright colors, feminine but not childish prints. And then by the time she’s summoned to go see Daddy Bill at the Authority, she needs to be herself-herself as well: she’s comfortable, but there’s a little more individuality to it by now. She needs both things in order to deal with the hellstorm that is Bill’s new outlook.
And to finish off season 5, which definitely shows the most variation in Jessica’s style, we have two fairly apparent juxtapositions of the badass and the feminine/personal-to-her. Another instance of a leather jacket in 5×11, “Sunset,” (this outfit first appears in the episode preceding, and because Jess didn’t have any time to pack before she was hauled off to the Authority, this leads me to believe that either Bill did some more shopping for her because he knew she was being dragged there or they just have a surplus of leather jackets and things sitting around the Authority, which is actually more believable to me considering how many leather jackets are found down there on others) because she’s doing the badass thing of going against Bill’s wishes supposedly secretively and trying to help out Jason and Sookie; this is paired, however, with a pink top, a tank top, because that’s her comfort zone, and her cute retro hair, because that’s what she likes. Then later in that episode and carrying into 5×12, “Save Yourself,” we see her reoutfitted in black jeans, boots, and this pink semi-punky-semi-girly t-shirt. She’s never had a t-shirt like this before, and presumably she’s wearing it because it’s what Pam and Tara had laying around at Fangtasia to lend, but I do know that Lucky 13 designed the shirt specially for her, so it’s got at least some aspect of her personality infused in it somewhat. She’s trying at least to combine comfort zones with the badassery she needs in the situations she’s in.
–your fangirl heroine.