The Mythic Ball, Part 4: Kitsune’s (Japanese Fox Spirit) Wa-Lolita Dress

A knee-length teal green dress with a fox mask and nine fox tails fanning out from underneath the skirt. The mask and tails are in a golden brown color with white accents. The dress has Japanese touches, with a subtle rice sheaf pattern woven into the fabric and dyed red, orange and yellow maple leaves arranged on the skirt and on the sleeves, with a couple at the shoulders. On the skirt and sleeves, they look as if they're falling, with a few near the top of the sleeves and skirt and most at the hem or the base. The sleeve isn't sewn at the sides, but is rather tied with a yellow bow underneath the wrist, and the lining of the fabric is bright red. The collar is folded over on one side and is edged with a wide black field, then a smaller white collar near the neck is lined with a row of black lace. There's a black obi, or wide belt, with a pattern of golden leaves and abstract flowers, with a red obi sash puffed out over the top. The obi sash is decorated with a pattern of tie-dyed dots creating diamond shapes. Around the obi is a silver cord, on which is mounted a shining blue fire-shaped jewel. Although the top part of the dress mostly looks like a traditional kimono, the skirt is full and knee-length, puffing out to the sides in an exaggerated way, as if there's a crinoline underneath it. There are four rows of sea-green silk with a subtle interlocking circle pattern on them, arranged so that they drape in overlapping ruffles from the obi to the hem of the skirt. They're edged with black lace. The skirt is also edged with black lace, and there's a bright red petticoat visible underneath the skirt. The black stockings and black boots are mostly covered by the fox tails.Kitsune, a Japanese fox spirit known for shapeshifting, cleverness and a love of deep-fried tofu, has enjoyed such tremendous, enduring popularity in her home country that she has long reigned unofficially over the little clique of Japanese archetypes. The recent rise in popularity of anime, manga and Japanese culture in other parts of the world has raised her stature, and she’s spending more and more time outside of her little group of monsters and ghosts. This has caused somewhat of a re-evaluation of her persona, as she would like to impress the big shots of the English-speaking world — the ones with the near-lock on Hollywood movies. Kitsune would quite like a movie or two. The first one doesn’t have to win an Oscar; she’s not picky. She’s thinking rom-com, at least to start with.

She always used to wear kimono to the ball, thinking that they make her look more refined and more in touch with her roots than the foreign archetypes in their showy gowns, but in recent years she’s tried out some masquerade dresses herself. The other archetypes in her old clique, who haven’t enjoyed quite the same popularity, felt threatened by this. Last year Kappa (another Japanese archetype) picked a big fight with her, mocking her Western-style gowns and accusing her of feeling superior to the rest of them. (Kappa has never quite recovered from reading the Harry Potter books; she was thrilled to hear that kappas were mentioned in one, and absolutely crushed when she found out that Professor Snape claimed that kappas were found in Mongolia.)

She doesn’t want to lose their good will, but she was really rather enjoying her forays into the world of fancy dress, so this year she opted for a daring new look: a wa-lolita dress. (Wa-lolita is a subset of a Japanese fashion subculture called “lolita” which emphasizes frilly, hyper-feminine clothes based on fairy-tale Victorian styles. Wa-lolita makes use of Japanese design elements like wide obi-style belts, kimono sleeves and Japanese patterns. To see examples of lolita and wa-lolita outfits, check out my Pinterest “Lolita style” board.)

Kappa, Oni and the others still think she’s putting on airs, but somehow it’s not quite as galling as seeing her in a knockoff of whatever Dragon wore last year. They’ll forgive her, Kitsune thinks, when she gets her rom-com and gives them all parts in it. (Little parts, of course.)

A couple little cultural notes about the dress! The blue ornament over the obi is a kitsune-bi (狐火), which are mysterious lights said to be associated with kitsune. The color of the fur is “kitsune-iro” (きつね色), or “fox color” — an actual color word in Japanese, often used to refer to things like the color of nicely cooked bread. The leaf pattern is based on Japanese maple leaves, “momiji” (紅葉); you don’t have to be a Japanese studies major to guess that it’s a fall-themed design element. Also, the fur brush I used was created by CoyoteMange and is extremely useful even for a fur beginner like me!

Next week will be our final guest at the Mythic Ball, Phoenix, and an opportunity to vote on this year’s Queen of the Mythic Ball. In the meantime, you can download combined color and black and white PDFs of all of my 2014 dolls and outfits for free! Also follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest for sneak previews, paperdoll thoughts and the occasional lolita dress. If you enjoy my work, I’d also appreciate your support through Patreon.

The Mythic Ball, Part 1: Dragon’s Blue, Black and Gold Masquerade Gown with Flame Underskirt

A black velvet masquerade gown with a square neckline, long sleeves and a large, bell-shaped skirt. At the neckline is a gold band in a stylized flame pattern, with a large fire opal surrounded by rhinestones set in the middle. The sleeves have blue ruffles at the shoulders and at the wrists, with iridescent blue-green highlights and shades of purple in the shaded areas. There's a bit of golden lace above each ruffle. A pattern of golden scrolls runs down the length of the sleeve. The bodice has a long, triangle-shaped area from the neckline to the waist patterned with shiny blue and purple dragon scales and bordered with delicate gold lace. At the waist is a gold band with a stylized flame pattern, set with three fire opals surrounded by rhinestones. The overskirt is open at the front and edged with a blue iridescent ruffle and golden lace. A golden pattern of a stylized dragon breathing flames is on the edge of the skirt. The underskirt appears to be made of fire. There's a light blue tail curling over the edge of the skirt and light blue wings at the shoulders, tipped with golden horns, and there's a small black velvet mask decorated with golden scrolls.Every year on Halloween, a certain kind of idea or story takes form, gets dressed up and throws a great party, called the mythic ball. These ideas prefer to be called “archetypes” (and you use the term “monster” at your own peril). For example, Dragon here isn’t a particular dragon; she didn’t make Saint George a legend, she’s never guarded the vaults in Gringotts and she doesn’t make a habit of burninating anything. Rather, she exists as the idea of a dragon, a force created by human culture and called upon when someone needs something large, reptilian and powerful for a particular creation.

It’s the night of the mythic ball; Dragon is holding court in her glorious dress. She was the queen of the monsters’ ball last year; those rare times she doesn’t win, she’s quite gracious about it, knowing as she does that the title will pass back to her sooner rather than later. Certain parties are known to hum “Puff, the Magic Dragon” behind her back, and there was a great fuss last year when Kraken made a snippy remark about her archetype being based on majestic giant squids and Dragon’s being based on cute little frill-necked lizards.

“I suppose you’re all just as popular as ever?” Dragon asks the group of archetypes surrounding her. She’s trying, without success, to keep from looking smug. Her courteous nature doesn’t allow her to directly bring up her own triumphs, but should someone happen to return the question to her, she would bring up how very pleased she was by that handsome and very popular young man voicing one of her newer representations, and how she had actually figured in several very popular cultural works lately. As a matter of fact, these days representing her archetype could be said to constitute its own industry. Not that she had calculated the salary of all the CG renderers, motion capture specialists, character designers and fantasy artists and authors who made up her most devoted fanbase, but she was sure it would be a most pleasing number. They feed their families and expand their portfolios thanks to the world’s desire for her; she grows as if nourished not by a hoard of gold but by a wealth of stories and artistic works.

Incidentally, there’s a second dragon archetype enjoying the party; this one is older than she is, and, she knows, more powerful. How much of her desire to be the center of this event stems from her jealousy, I can’t say.

Happy October, a month which you may know I like to celebrate as the most important time of the paperdoll year since it includes Halloween, a holiday that just begs for fanciful costumes. Those of you who have been reading for a while may remember this dragon-themed masquerade gown from 2010, and the promise of similar dresses to come. It never happened, because I finished that dress — still one of my favorites — and realized I’d never top it in time. (I think that’s also when I first noticed my wrists having problems.) Well, now that I’m doing digital coloring and shooting for one dress a week, it’s time to revisit the mythic ball…

Who will we meet next? The contentious Kraken mentioned in this installment, perhaps? Or another of the many archetypes attending the ball? Come back next week to find out! In the meantime, don’t forget that you can now download combined color and black and white PDFs of all of my 2014 dolls and outfits for free! Also follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest for sneak previews, paperdoll thoughts and fun reference images of dresses. If you enjoy my work, I’d also appreciate your support through Patreon.

Blue and Gold Princess Gown with White Tulle, plus Thoughts on Princess Culture

A royal blue satin ballgown draped in the front to show the light blue reverse side of the fabric and the full layered tulle underskirt. The gown is off-the-shoulders with long fitted sleeves, and there's a wide gold band at the collar with a scroll and heart pattern decorated with small red, green and blue gems. It has a V waist decorated with a gold band and gems, and the overskirt is edged with a gold band with a scroll and heart pattern  and gems. The skirt is bell shaped and very wide, and the underskirt has several tiers of white tulle edged with flower lace. There's also a golden circlet decorated with red, green and blue gems.I’ve had princesses on my mind lately. The popularity of princesses (particularly the Disney Princess line) is often viewed, especially from a feminist perspective, as a rather embarrassing phase for parents to suffer through, but I’m as feminist as they come, and I think there’s more to it. Why are stories about princesses so compelling to such a wide audience, and why is princess culture so pervasive? I believe it’s because stories about princesses reflect the struggles of the readers, because princesses are unabashedly feminine icons in a society that often disparages women, and because princesses as a character archetype have a surprising amount of flexibility and interest.

The word “princess” comes loaded with significance. (Just come up with a good noun and slap “The Princess And The” in front of it: there’s your story title!) We’re all aware of the historical concept of a princess, and readers know in reality that being a princess probably wasn’t such a great gig. After all, a princess’ marriage was likely decided by political factors, her power often depended on the favor of other people, and she wasn’t likely to have much personal freedom. Still, she probably had some influence and resources that weren’t available to an average woman (and to be sure, her dresses were better).

We readers know these things before we even start reading, so when we encounter a princess in a story we immediately understand she has certain pressures and obligations, as well as some degree of power and privilege. Her position in life makes the stakes higher than they would be for a regular person, which adds tension and drama to the story, but at the same time we understand her problems and relate to them. After all, a princess in a story is likely to worry about things like pleasing her family, living within certain restrictions, finding love and making a place for herself in her world — all things that we readers understand just as well. The limitations and expectations each princess has to cope with and the way she finds her power reflect the conflict between the reader’s desires and our obligations and duties.

In other words, a modern story about a princess is likely to be a story about a woman finding her source of power and taking control of her life. There will probably be some existing limitations, because a princess with no problems or obligations whatsoever may seem unrealistic, but there also have to be opportunities for her to try to get what she wants, because a character that is too bound by outside forces to do anything is problematic both from a storytelling perspective and from a feminist one. So for the story to be compelling, a princess character with limitations in one area has to have some degree of freedom in other ways.

How this plays out is different for each story, and depends on the setting and the characters. A character with little agency like Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones who finds herself trapped among hostile people and has to develop alliances and soft power skills to survive is at one end of the power scale; on the other end are characters like Merida from Brave, who’s an excellent archer and is able to just leave the castle on horseback and go climbing mountains on her own, but still has to deal with being betrothed and comes to learn the value of her mother’s way of doing things.

One major source of power for most princesses is that they tend to embody a lot of what our culture considers feminine virtues, and I think that the celebration of these virtues is something else that causes them to be compelling, particularly to young girls. Modern princesses might even throw a mean punch and be clumsy, like Anna, or have magical powers and a repressed desire to wear a slinky dress like Elsa, but they’re fundamentally admirable people. We all respond positively to beauty, open and loving natures, concern for others and so on, and as we all believe we’re the hero of our own story, it’s easy to identify with these figures, particularly young girls who are just starting the process of figuring out this “being female” business.

In this sense, being a princess has nothing to do with birth and is entirely a matter of one’s state of mind — Cinderella was as much a princess in her ragged clothing as she was in her ball gown — and for that reason a princess can be both inspiring and an accessible role model. This is, of course, the whole point of the novel A Little Princess, whose heroine, who was merely rich, not technically a princess, strove to be an admirable, princess-like person even when impoverished and humiliated.

The flip side of this is that we too soon learn that, in our culture, all these virtues come with serious downsides. Being entirely free to express or not express femininity as you please is tricky, because if you’re perceived as overdoing or underdoing it relative to the situation you may get harassed or not taken seriously; the way that you personally want to present yourself is often a secondary consideration to how your appearance will be viewed by others, and not getting it right can lead to social punishment. What should be fun is actually complex and demanding in ways that are hard to see. As for those virtues, innocence, friendliness and generosity often get taken advantage of, and being modest, self-sacrificing and willing to take care of others generally doesn’t lead to financial security and respect in our capitalist society. The image of being “too good” or “too feminine” is one that women sometimes feel they explicitly have to move away from to be taken seriously. Princesses seem to escape all of this: their virtues are precisely what gain them power and respect, they get to wear the pretty dress and sing to wildlife without anyone thinking less of them and they don’t have to compromise what they like and what’s important to them to be taken seriously.

So I see the popularity of the Disney Princess line among adults and children (mostly women and girls, but there are men and boys who love them too) as a way of showing appreciation for the positive aspects of values such as kindness, friendliness and gentleness, as well as for the more theatrical aspects of femininity such as an interest in beauty and clothes for their own enjoyment, not for attracting men or projecting an image. I think we appreciate these things because they’re fun and they make the world a better place, but also because we know that they’re fragile and often not treated with justice in a society that is too often unkind to women and places impossible demands on them.

As the roles of women have been evolving, so too have the roles princesses play in stories, and I think that today there’s a lot of room for interesting stories about princesses. Of course, I’d like just as well to see plenty of interesting stories about girls and women without noble titles, and I worry that the focus on princesses is too limiting — sure, if I was in charge of counting the money the Disney Princess line brings in, I’d probably want all of our protagonists to be princesses forever and ever too, but there are so many other stories to be told. (I get a lot of stories about non-princess women from webcomics these days — Nimona, Namesake, Ava’s Demon. I have to mention Blindsprings, too, even though it’s about a princess.) Still, as I touched on before, princesses come with a history, and skillful, unexpected use of this history can make them relatable and fresh-feeling characters — that’s an attractive thing for a writer. Modern audiences already know the standard princess stories and tropes; as the success of Frozen shows, we’re now interested in seeing them toyed with and used in surprising ways. Princesses have the potential to surprise now more than ever.

I am going to shoot for doing a new doll next week, but it’s just as likely I won’t be able to finish in time, in which case I don’t know what I’ll be doing! Don’t forget that you can now download combined color and black and white PDFs of all of my 2014 dolls and outfits for free! Also follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest for sneak previews, paperdoll thoughts and lots of fashion plates. If you enjoy my work, I’d also appreciate your support through Patreon.

1930s Blue Flower Patterned Dress with Lace Scarf and Cherry Brooch

A 1930s-style blue dress with a small pattern of white flowers and green leaves. The neckline is decorated with a white lace scarf pinned with a plastic brooch in the shape of a yellow bow over a pair of red cherries. The scarf falls in a lace-edged ruffle down the front of the dress. The sleeves are slightly puffed, and there are rows of pintucks down the front of the bodice to each side of the ruffle. It's belted at the waist with the same kind of fabric. The skirt is just past knee length and is slightly flared at the base.
I’m breaking my paper doll slump with this 1930s-style dress! If you don’t follow me on Pinterest, you probably should, or at least you should select a couple of my boards to follow because I actually have nearly 200 boards. (I suggest Jewelry, Gorgeous Dresses and, of course, Liana’s Paper Dolls.) You may be asking, what does one person need with nearly 200 boards? The answer is, I have one board for fashion plates, illustrations and actual examples of clothes from almost every year between 1788 and 1965. Even if you aren’t foolhardy enough to hit that “Follow All” button, it’s fun to go to my profile and just scroll down, watching the fashions change. Whenever I want to draw a historical outfit, I’m always scrambling through Google Image Search, museum sites and so on for examples of outfits from that time, so having these boards is a great resource for me! I particularly like 1930s clothes, so I did a 1930s dress today. It’s mostly based on late 1930s styles (I think mostly 1937), but the pattern and decorations are my own invention.

In other news, I now have PDF collections of my 2014 dolls and outfits to download! So if you want to print them out, you don’t have to fuss with each individual PDF any more. They’re pay what you want, including $0, and you don’t even have to sign up for anything or have any credit card information if you get them for free.

I don’t have an elf dress ready for the next contest, but let’s get it started anyway! I will have it done by next week at the latest, and the winner can decide on the coloring then. I promise it’ll be pretty!

To enter the contest, post a comment with your favorite time period for clothes. One comment per person please, and I’ll choose the winner with a random number generator. If you’ve won a contest this year, please don’t enter again. (And Mom, you’re free to enter!) The winner will get to tell me how to color an elf dress.