Friday, June 10, 2005

Pretty Pretty Princess

Consort came through the front door, flipping through the mail.

“Does our daughter have a friend named Isabella?”

“Our daughter has six friends named Isabella. She also has four Chloes, five Ellas, three Avas and eighteen friends named Emma. Why do you ask?”

“Birthday party invite,” he said, opening the purple envelope. A cutout of a woman in a ball gown slid out. He flipped the invitation over.

“It’s a princess party. She’s supposed to wear a princess outfit. Does she have that?”

I stared at him in disbelief.

“Are you new around here?”

We have a princess outfit for an outdoor run-around party. We have a princess outfit for an indoor tea party. We have a slightly stained princess outfit for a party which will involve poster paint. We have a princess outfit for a piñata party on a yacht. I can dress up any of those outfits with three different tiaras, which were party favors from previous princess parties; or I can keep it casual with sneakers and princess-themed socks. Usually, Daughter votes for a tiara and princess socks. In short, the princess trousseau has gone from being just a play-at-home accessory to a mandatory wardrobe for any well-dressed 21st century girl.

When did the Princess gown become the Little Black Dress of the under seven set? I know there were always fairy tales, and I think Barbie had a wand or two in her accessory pile, but it wasn’t that all-encompassing when I was a kid. Somehow I managed to choke down macaroni and cheese without the pasta being shaped like a crown. Was it Ariel? Was it Belle? Was it a generation of little girls being raised by women who stayed up all night to watch Charles and Diana get married?

I am a feminist who is the daughter of a feminist, but I am not mean: my kid has princess stuff, and swans around in it with imperial abandon. However, since I am a feminist with a loathing of cross-merchandising and a wish for Daughter to be creative in her dressing-up (and who also happens to be cheap), my daughter’s princess outfits are…singular.

Her favorite princess ensemble to date is a traditional costume from El Salvador, with an off-the-shoulder blouse and a full polychromatic skirt. My mother found it last year when she had gone to El Salvador for a Bat Mitzvah [You probably didn’t need to know that, but I like saying “El Salvador for a Bat Mitzvah”. It makes people frown.] When Daughter wears this particular outfit, and people ask her what princess she is, I have taught her to say “Frida Kahlo”.

It entertains me.

Her other princess outfits are a hodgepodge of hand-me-down leotards, hand-me-down tutus, some ill-advised shoe purchases of mine, and silk scarves and costume jewelry she inherited from friends of her Grandmother who moved to Florida.

I never need to see the return of the Big-Clip-On-Earring look of the early 80’s but, I must admit, giant coral drops hanging nearly to Daughter’s shoulders look really fetching with a turquoise leotard, a gold turban, some leopard mules I bought on sale (it’s embarrassing to admit, but she doesn’t walk any more clumsily in them than I ever did), and a rust and green leaf-patterned scarf, worn like a cape. If the American Association for Retired Persons ever has a super-hero, she will look something like this.

Every time we’ve attended a princess party, I’ve waited for Daughter to look around at the more traditional princess outfits of her peers, turn to me and wail “I want those!” So far, though, she hasn’t. She seems to like being the Princess of the Gypsies and I like standing around at birthday parties watching little kids pull their high heels out of the grass. Where little girls see glamour and elegance, I see valuable lessons to take into their adult years:

1. Complicated clothing seems like a good idea until you get to the party.
There’s always one little girl in a princess outfit which involves some kind of complicated belt/sash thing which doesn’t stay tied, or a puffed sleeve which is supposed to stay on the shoulder but prefers living on the elbow. As an adult, this girl will never be sales-talked into buying some complicated Japanese raincoat with an extra sleeve you can use as a purse.

2. You can either look incredible, or you can move.
For the outdoor parties, the girls frequently arrive in something regal, parade around a while for their friends’ admiration, and then go change into shorts and a t-shirt. It’s hard to win the bean-bag toss in a bustle. I think more adult women need to consider this option. Imagine you walk through the bar, making sure everyone gets a gander of you in the tight skirt and pinky-toe-eradicating heels. Then you slide neatly into the bathroom and change into sweats. Everyone who matters has now seen what you’re capable of looking like, and you’re much more likely to be witty and engaging if you aren’t worrying about your shoes filling with blood.

3. Sometimes, you shouldn’t care what anyone else is wearing to the party. You’re feeling princess-ish, and the tiara is coming out.
We have actually been to three parties this year which weren’t princess- themed, and at least one girl showed up wearing her full regalia. She felt wonderful about herself, and everyone else was too involved in trying to sneak open the present they brought to really care about what she wore.

Now, if you will excuse me, we have a Princess party tomorrow, and those rhinestone bracelets don’t just clean themselves.


Anonymous Kate said...

Normally, I would have something witty, I think, to say about the Princess article, but I am still reeling from the Target onslaught. Unable to return to Target now that its dark secret has been revealed, and too scared of the PC attack if I went to Wal-Mart (yes, sometimes I shop there; I live in a small southern town and shopping options are limited), today I found myself wandering aimlessly through K-Mart, my cart filled with potato chips, Frito cheese dip, and enough Pepsi to fuel the space shuttle. Where do I shop now? I feel lost. I love your blog, but please warn us before the next psychoshopping bombshell.

9:41 PM  
Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

Forget I said anything at all. Besides, didn't we, as a group, determine that Target is good?

7:05 AM  
Anonymous Kate said...

Yes, yes, now the fog is lifting and I remember seeing the web addresses listing evidence of Target's good works in the other comments. Thanks so much for the reminder. Now I can return to Target, where other Kate, who has a tastefully decorated bedroom with the sheets that match the comforter that match the pillow shams that matches the dust ruffle, awaits in the housewares aisle...

10:43 PM  
Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

Don't forget the matching water glass for the side table!

10:57 PM  

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