Thursday, May 31, 2012

Paper Dolls!

Paper Dolls? Yes, indeed. 

I have no memory of playing with paper dolls as a child. If I did, they weren't a large part of my childhood. But I collect them now. A very specific type of paper doll that serves as a historical resource for the time periods I write about. 

I'm referring to the historical fashion plate paper dolls by gifted illustrators like Tom Tierney. Just take a look at these covers and titles:


These beautiful, simple illustrations are a wonderful basis for establishing what styles fictional characters should be wearing in various times and places during the 18th century. The books are arranged in large, colorful, numbered plates, each one described in detail and given historical context at the back of the book, so that you can cut out these outfits and used them as paper dolls were meant to be used. Or not. 

So far I've kept all my books intact and simply leaf through them from time to time for inspiration.
 
Pictured at right is my newest acquisition, and easily my favorite. The Fowler Family Gets Dressed: Frontier Paper Dolls of the Old Northwest Territory, by Mary K. Inman and Louise F. Pence. Included in this book are an extensive glossary, bibliography, maps, and historical notes.


Paper doll books aren't limited to early American fashions. Is the Medieval Era more your cup of mead? Byzantine? Arthurian?


So what do you think? Have you ever used paper dolls as a fiction writing reference? If not, have I convinced you that they're a fun historical fashion resource? 

12 comments:

  1. I love them, Lori! If I wrote historicals, I'd have to have them. I _do_ remember playing with paperdolls--Betsy McCall. I just know I dated myself. ; )

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    1. They are SO handy. And who knows, you may dip your toes in the historical genre pool yet. I didn't start writing historicals, but fantasy. Although the characters' clothing was based on Iron Age Celtic clothing, which makes me think I should look for a Celtic paper doll book, just for fun. They are, for the most part, very affordable. Under $10 most of them.

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  2. This is *such* a good idea. I've got a pseudo-medieval fantasy setting that needs some good clothes. I should try this out.

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    1. Amy, they're a great place to start for historical fashion research. I know there's at least that one Medieval Paper Doll book, but I bet an Amazon search would turn up more.

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  3. I was a paper doll freak! Loved playing with them with my friends. We had them in separate shoe boxes; Katy Keene etc. (and Betsy McCall :)I loved tracing around and designing my own outfits for them. If I couldn't wear a ball gown--this was the next best thing. It helped my drawing skills, too.

    And T. Tierney's books have been a main source now for the costumes in my writing. I'm always checking back for a basic style; then if I have to change a color or trim or whatever, I
    know it's within the range of possibility. Enjoyed the post on the Oneidas too.

    Thanks, Lori!

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    1. Pat, I'm not at all surprise you're well familiar with Tierney's books. They really do work great for a base line for fashions.

      Glad you liked the Iroquois post too. There is so. much. to. learn. Wish there was a "sponge" setting on my brain so I could take it all in at once, instead of book by book, word by word, conversation by conversation. There doesn't seem to be enough years left for me to learn all I want to learn about the 18th century frontier and the many different people groups that called it home (or wanted to).

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  4. They have a whole rack of these at a used bookstore in Corvallis. I love them. Of course, when my daughter saw what I'd brought home, I had to take her there to buy her own. There was no way I was going to let her cut mine up!

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    1. These days we can scan the outfit we want, print it on our color printers, and cut THAT out. I did that yesterday in fact. I'd clipped a photo of a man who looks like one of my characters out of a JCP catalog. Now he's propped up by the desk wearing a fringed hunting shirt/militia outfit. With a shaggy hipster hairdo so it kinda works for him.

      It would be fun to play paper dolls with kids now, but I agree. "Get your own!" :)

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  5. I played for hours and hours with paperdolls--but I'm much older than you.

    My favorites were the Little Women paperdolls I received when I spent a month home from school with pneumonia! I would have the book there along with the dolls and made up my own stories of the Fabulous March Girls!

    I love this post. What a great hobby. I may have to do this. Such a fun memory for me.

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    1. That sounds like fun, Crystal. I think as a girl if I'd had, not Little Women, but Little House character paper dolls, I would have read the books and had those dolls close to hand. Those were some of my favorite childhood books. I was very enamored with Laura Ingalls and her frontier life, both the books and the TV show.

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  6. How very cool! I would've loved those as a child. I remember having paper dolls, in particular Betsy McCall. My mother subscribed to McCall's magazine and in each issue, there was a new set version of Betsy and clothes to cut out.

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    1. A lot of women remember McCall's, but not me. I feel so deprived. ;) Making up for lost time now though.

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