Paper doll box

by Laura A

Having made two long-distance moves, I have a lot of stuff in storage. So far, my parents, and especially my inlaws, have been very patient about storing it. But I feel it’s only fair to cull through the stuff sometimes when I visit.

So, last week at my inlaws’, while I was looking through old wedding announcements and AP English papers (yikes!), I found my paper doll box.

Drawing paper dolls is an eccentric habit, I know, but I liked to draw, and at the time I liked clothes. So I probably kept sets going off and on from third grade until college.  I think I started by drawing extra clothes for the paper dolls I bought from the drug store.  But I still remember that the first set I made completely from scratch: the Pillsbury Doughboy!  I made one paper doughboy for myself and one for my sister. Our doughboys were outfitted for everything from football to spy missions.  I wish I had kept that set, because they were probably hilarious!

I remember doing a couple more sets from elementary school through middle school.  These were usually  characters from stories and the clothes were often my idea of what I wanted to wear, but didn’t get to.  The doll in the photo above, which I drew in seventh grade, was one of these.  Looking at her wardrobe, almost all of these outfits were ones I would have liked to have worn to my new school (we moved a lot then, too).  Well, not the flamenco skirt, maybe.

But I also drew paper dolls because I liked historical costume.  I thought it was a great shame that no one dressed like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Sara Crewe anymore, so I made paper dolls of Victorian dresses. Sometimes I also dressed smaller 3D dolls in bigger dresses and old baby clothes, tying and pinning the extra cloth to approximate the silhouettes of the 18th or 19th centuries.

In eighth grade and maybe for a couple of years after, I drew clothes for one doll, who started out as a character in a really bad story I tried to write.  Looking at the doll now, the face is totally unsympathetic, which could explain some of the problems I was having with the story.  But her wardrobe!  Oh, my!  Her wardrobe must have served some purpose similar to that of Wanda Polanski in The Hundred Dresses. (I loved this story, about a poor immigrant girl whose classmates made fun of her for saying she had a hundred dresses.) There were so many I’d have to divide them into categories:

Here are: disco, historical, and summer cotton.  These first and last are sheer 1978!  Can’t you almost hear Abba’s The Dancing Queen?  I no longer remember where I got the ideas for most of these (probably magazines), but I do know where the pink floral patterned dress came from.  It came from  a shopping expedition to Saks Fifth Avenue in Atlanta with my friend Katherine and her mom. I found a dress that I really liked. They both thought I looked great in it, but I hesitated to buy it because it was more than my parents usually paid for a dress.  (That was back before cellphones.)  So I drew it!

These last photos are of paper dolls I did later.  I could draw better when I did these, but I think I had almost lost interest in the genre by then.  I think maybe my paper dolls always worked better as children’s book characters than fashion figures.  They needed a story.

Regardless, the first (blurry, sorry!) outfit is for a doll who was my idea of a haute couture model.  In fact, she looked a lot like the women from the Addicted to Love video. (If you get that reference, fine, but it’s probably not worth looking up.)

The second was a doll I made for a little girl I used to babysit.  For some reason, perhaps because we were in the Flashdance era by then, it has a ballet theme.  The sweatshirt logo says “Juilliard Dance.”  Not that I knew anything about Juilliard.

After that, I went off to college and the only time I ever drew paper dolls again was one doll and outfit I made for Sarie’s fourth birthday.  But Sarie was never as interested in them as I was, and I don’t know where that doll is anymore.

So, that’s my little tour through one teenager’s idea of drawing fashion in the 70s and 80s.  Looking back from thirty years’ distance, I think some of them are of dubious taste, but others I still like.  In particular, I should have bought that dress from Saks.