The Mythic Ball, Part 2: Kraken’s Purple and Silver Gown with Tentacles

An off-the-shoulder dress with fin-like webbing on the upper arms, a corset top, a tight, sparkly silver skirt edged with more fin-like webbing and several tentacles coming from the skirt and spilling over the floor. The corset is patterned with an abstract tentacle pattern and is a deep purple. It's made of shiny fabric which is nearly pink where the light hits it, and the top of the corset is covered in sparkly silver glitter. The fin-like webbing is done in garish shades of yellow, orange and magenta. The skirt is gathered at the back and drapes over the front from the waist to the knees in graceful folds, and the entire skirt is covered in silver sequins that glitter as they catch the light. The silhouette suggests a late 1800s gown, although the colors, glitter and tentacles don't. There are about ten tentacles, shiny and colored in shades of purple, with large suckers on them. They fall towards the ground, where they spill out and curl around on the floor. There's also a shiny silver mask to go with the outfit.

Kraken had been a favorite in the Victorian era, then airplanes came along, things went poorly for her and she had slunk around the edges of the party for some time. But these days, she’s trendy again. Downright hip, in a way that ever-popular Dragon can’t be: a t-shirt screenprinted with a dragon runs the risk of being cliché and laughable, but Kraken-themed accessories have creepy steampunk style. She suggests mystery, complexity, and a hint of the taboo (as the Great Old Ones are pointedly not invited to the festivities).

Her habit of arriving at the ball with a gleeful cry of “Release the Kraken!” is getting a little old, but no one’s had the nerve to suggest a more subtle entrance to her; Kraken simply doesn’t do subtle, as her flashy dress might suggest. Plus, she has a theatrical streak a mile wide: when Vampire gave her a disdainful look and told her that her ensemble was “very Ursula” Kraken just grinned and started belting out “Poor Unfortunate Souls” right there. Can there be anything better, Kraken thought to herself, than showing off a popular sea-monster themed show tune and mortifying Vampire in the same night? She can think of a few things, but it’s enough of a triumph for this particular quarter of an hour.

Help me out — I have plans to introduce three more guests this month, and I know who two of them are but I’m not sold on the third…

Who comes next? I’ll give you a hint: if you recognize next week’s archetype you can congratulate yourself for being hip to Internet pop culture. 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 drawing tutorials I think might be useful. If you enjoy my work, I’d also appreciate your support through Patreon.

Pink Princess Gown with Opals

A pink gown with an off-the-shoulder neckline. There are five large opals at the neckline, surrounded by diamonds. The dress has a fitted bodice and a small, semi-transparent white overskirt patterned with rhinestone scrolls and edged with lace. The skirt is full and sparkly and is patterned with a light scroll pattern, and there's a rhinestone pattern on the hem.I do think this is one of the most unabashedly girly dresses I’ve ever done. It looks to me something like the dress that the mice made for Cinderella in the Disney version — as if the fairy godmother had decided to spruce that one back up and make it sparkle instead of going with the silvery-blue gown.

I must admit that I’m not any more ahead now than I was when I started this princess project, but I’m happy with things. I felt like I was in a bit of a paperdoll slump these last couple of weeks, but since I had sketched and chosen colors for my princess dresses at the very beginning, all I really had to do was make them happen, and that’s often the easiest part of the whole process. I hope that those of you who aren’t into princesses (that would be 1% of you, according to my recent princess poll) found these last three weeks’ offerings tolerable; in any case, this is the end of my princess parade for now, as Halloween is coming up, and I do have plans for October that don’t involve princesses. (They do involve a very special masquerade ball, though…)

Next week… that very special masquerade ball. 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 kimono pictures. 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.

White Cake Dress with Pink Ombre Rosettes for Broken Age

A very light ivory ballgown with an almost exaggeratedly large, floor length skirt. It is off the shoulder, with a line of pink rosettes across the top. The bodice is fitted and decorated with a pattern of white lines and dots arranged into a sunburst shape, with a polka dot and grid pattern covering the background. Both patterns are shaded to look as if they're white frosting on a white cake. The waist is V-shaped and is edged with a line of small silver balls. The overskirt is open at the front, showing a large part of the underskirt. The top half of the underskirt has a pattern of delicate white scrolls and the words "Treat Yourself!" written in loopy cursive in pink frosting. The bottom half consists of three large rows of rosettes, designed to look like they were made out of icing. The top rosette row is very pale pink, the second is a shade darker and the third is even more darker, creating an ombre effect. The overskirt is edged with lines of small silver balls and is decorated with sunburst-shaped patterns of lines and dots going up the front sides and a polka dot and grid pattern covering the background.This ballgown was inspired by a recently released adventure game, Broken Age. Vella, our heroine and one of the two protagonists, is a young woman who lives in a town of bakers that is terrorized by a horrendous monster called Mog Chothra every 14 years. In a scene that you’ll always remember whenever you see a cake made to look like the skirt of a Barbie doll or a princess, our heroine, along with four other young women of the village, is offered to the monster as a human sacrifice at an event called the “Maidens Feast.” They are all embedded in gigantic cakes that look like skirts, which are gorgeously decorated with all the skill the villagers have and inscribed with tempting slogans like “Delish,” “Hot Stuff” and “Up For Grabs!” Each of the young women is hoping to protect her village and bring honor to her family by being selected (that is, eaten) by Mog Chothra… except for Vella. But how do you escape a floating monster the size of a mansion when you’re stuck in a cake, ready to be served up?

Broken Age is a point-and-click adventure game, notable for being one of the first Kickstarter successes. To put it simply, adventure games are rather out of fashion, but two years ago Tim Schafer, known for other classics like Grim Fandango, said to the Internet “We’ll make a new game if you give us money” and people got out their wallets, leading to this game’s release. In games like these, you solve puzzles by exploring, talking to people, finding objects and using them in the right place. Some were notorious for being unforgiving (looking at you, King’s Quest series), and some had goofy, implausible puzzles (like one where you had to disguise yourself by making a mustache from cat hair and syrup), but Broken Age is nicely designed: you can never get in a situation that you can’t get out of, and the puzzles are entertaining but not exasperating. The art is lovely, with a style that looks almost as if it was all painted, and the settings are all detailed and fun to explore. Vella is also a fun, capable heroine, who rejects her world’s passive acceptance of Mog Chothra and breaks free of the cake skirt to find a different way to protect her village. The other half of the game explores the story of a young man named Shay, whose world couldn’t be any more different from Vella’s…

Right now, only the first half of the game is out, with the second half to come later this year. I think it’s well worth the price, and if you check it out, please let me know what you think of it!

It looks our our Oscar night winner is Lupita Nyong’o’s blue Prada gown! I don’t know when I will have that up – I will try for before the end of the month, but it might be later. Also, a 1910s outfit will be our contest prize; it beat out a pirate outfit and an evening gown with over half the vote. I will do some research and some sketches, so come back next Friday for a contest and a Japanese fairytale! Until then, you can follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for site updates, sneak previews and ridiculous amounts of fashion plates. If you enjoy my work, I’d also appreciate your support through Patreon.