Saturday, November 26, 2011

"I'm Gonna Buy a Paper Doll That I Can Call My Own"

The rest of the lyrics to  Paper Doll (written in 1915) are sad indeed. The poor fellow was jilted by his girlfriend and will settle for a girl made out of paper next time. But to me buying paper dolls was one of the sheer joys of having some jingle in my pocket.

As a little girl my allowance covered the purchase of orange Creamsicles @8 cents off the truck (summer only), comic books @10 cents (Little Lulu and Donald Duck), Nancy Drew mysteries (98 cents to buy but mostly traded with other girls) and paper dolls. By far paper dolls were the greatest love. They ranged in price from 25 cents for a book to $1.50 for sturdy cardboard-boxed dolls with clothes printed on glossy paper. My favorites were always the teenagers. I couldn't have been more than five when I had a book called "Teen Town". Another favorite was "Big Sister, Little Sister"— a teenager and her younger sister with matching clothes. This was undoubtedly a tribute to my nine-years-older big sister, Lonnie— though she would have died before wearing matching clothes. To me her teenage life was the nirvana for which I was drinking my milk and eating Wonder Bread.

Clothes from one of the Big Sister, Little Sisters

I always carefully cut out the dolls— no punching and leaving unsightly perf marks. I carefully cut out the clothes as well, using my mother's best manicure scissors (of which she was not pleased). I was impatient, though, and only ever left two tabs on the clothes at the top, just enough to keep them on. Funny thing is— I loved cutting out the dolls and trying on the clothes, but I don't remember actually playing with them much. I guess that wasn't the point for a budding fashionista.

There were movie star paper dolls, bride and groom paper dolls, "educational" paper dolls of historic figures or national costumes, but nothing pleased me more than a new book of teenagers to attack with a scissors.

Of course I made my own. Only one. She was traced from a book called "Fun With Paper Dolls", taken out ad nauseum from the library. I named her Tina but have no idea why. Her clothes were made from pieces of wallpaper, gift wrap, colored paper, textiles I designed on paper and sections of printed magazine paper (for the fur and the lace). I used real pieces of leather for belts and glued on sequins or glitter and little feathers on the hats. It says something for Lepage's School Glue that those doodads are still in place 60 years later. Hindsight being 20/20, it should have been pretty obvious by age ten that I was destined for a life in Fashion.

And I have a paper doll of myself. Higbee's department store had a promotion where your head would be photographed and placed on a topless (!) little girl with a sheet of clothes to cut out— all in glorious black and white. It's six-year-old me alright with crooked bangs and a squint.

I still have Tina and all her clothes, neatly filed and labeled in envelopes from my dad's office (my closet should look so good). Alas the paper doll books were expendable long ago, but there exists a huge business online in laser reproductions of old books. Some are even printed on the crappy but memorable pulp paper of the originals. I have bought "Teen Town" and "Big Sister, Little Sister" (which I am cutting out with all the tabs using my own manicure scissors). I even found a copy of "Fun with Paper Dolls" on ebay. Fittingly enough, it's an out-of-circulation library copy.


1 comment:

  1. Do you currently own "My Wonderful World of Fashion" and/or it's golden sequel?