Shimmery Blue Princess Gown

An off-the shoulder gown with a tight bodice and a trumpet-shaped skirt. There are pearly white ruffles over the shoulders, while the bodice is light blue with a small swirl pattern and a silver pattern at the neckline. The ruffled overskirt is in three layers, which start near the hip and get increasingly longer until they touch the ground on the other side of the dress. The top one is light blue, the middle one is a deeper blue and the bottom one is a darker purple-blue. They all have a silver swirl pattern on the edges. They're over a pearly white full skirt with a subtle swirl pattern in white on it.Happy 2015! Coming a little late to the party, am I? Well, I’ve still got a large portion of the year to make up for it. And I think this is going to be a good year for paperdolls and, hopefully, for some stories to go with them.

This dress is a princess gown I designed when I was doing my other princess gown series, but just never got around to it. I wanted to give it the time it deserved, and I think it turned out pretty well!

Next week, I hope to have a new paperdoll, but they always take a little longer than I expect, so it may just be a dress. Until then, 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 gorgeous African print skirts, grousing about working in 200 DPI and sneak previews. 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.

Red and Green Medieval Gown with Oak, Rose and Violet Embroidery and Fur Trim

A gown with a red overdress and green underskirts. The overdress has a scoop neck trimmed with brown fur, and it has sleeves that are fitted to the elbow, trimmed at the elbow with brown fur, then fan out in a wide bell shape, with the edge of the sleeve very long at the wrist. At the edge of the sleeve is a stripe of golden ribbon patterned with scrolls. The red fabric is a shiny brocade with a pattern of oak leaves, scrolls and roses. Down the front of the dress is a stripe of embroidery over an ivory base. The embroidery shows red roses, purple violets, green oak leaves and scrolls, and the flowers are trimmed with small pearls. The embroidery is bordered with stripes of golden ribbon patterned with scrolls. The front of the overdress is split and open at the waist, curving down and ending at the knees with the front of the underskirts entirely visible. The hem of the overdress is trimmed with brown fur. There is a wide golden belt in a pattern of large, overlapping loops that falls at the hips. Set in the front of the belt is a large, smooth purple gemstone. The underskirts, which fall to the floor, are in two layers. One layer is a bright grass green in a shiny brocade patterned with oak leaves, scrolls and roses. It is open at the front and split, showing the second underskirt underneath. It is bordered with stripes of gold ribbon patterned with scrolls. The underskirt is sea green and patterned with golden curling vines.One quick thing before I get into talking about the new dress: I’ve signed up with Patreon, a service that helps people become patrons of the art and media they like. If you would like to support me and my work, please take a look at it!

This gown is the result of my most recent contest, which consisted of two parts. I held it on Facebook, and in part 1, I asked my followers to choose between three categories: evening gowns, medieval dresses and mermaid tails. Medieval dresses won, so I spent some time collecting images of medieval dresses I liked on Pinterest and making some sketches, leading to this black and white sketch and contest part #2. (You’ll note there’s no necklace on the finished dress — I made one, then decided it was just gilding the lily.) In this stage of the contest, people just had to like the post to enter. Eleven people did, and the first winner, chosen by a random number generator, was Nikki Paulsen, but she never got back to me by the following Sunday, and so unfortunately I needed to pick someone else, too. (Nikki, if you read this, I’ll still recolor it for you any time! Just e-mail me or leave a comment here or on Facebook.) The second winner was Hannah Bristol, and here was her request:

The style of the dress makes it seem like a very foresty, homey type of gown. I think I’d like to see the overcoat in earthy tones of red with gold accents, maybe with a brownish-gray fur trim, and the underskirts in shades of green.

I’m not sure if I exactly hit “homey” and “foresty” notes with all of the embroidery, satin and gold trim, but the results are lovely, so maybe it’s something Maid Marian could wear when she needs to get dressed up. Hannah, I hope you like how it turned out! I really enjoy trying to fulfill someone else’s color scheme, because I feel like I always learn something I wouldn’t have when I color it by myself. I posted a series of pictures showing the steps in making this dress on my Tumblr, if anyone is interested in that.

My intention is to hold these contests once a month and spread them among my various social media venues, the blog and the mailing list. I haven’t decided where the next one will show up, but it will start on the 13th.

Next time there will be a special Valentine’s Day present for all of my beloved readers, so come back next Friday! Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook for updates and fun things, Twitter for my thoughts and sneak previews, or Pinterest for lovely dresses and jewelry. You can also sign up for my mailing list at the top of this page!

Purple and Red Empire Waist Gowns with Black Lace Overskirts

A purple satin empire-waist gown with a ruched bust and small puffed sleeves edged with black lace. The black lace overskirt is secured with a black ribbon and extends past the knees, and it has a scalloped edge. The hem of the dress falls to the ankle, and is decorated with pintucks. There's also a black ribbon choker with a red gem set in gold.

The exact same as the purple dress, only red. Click for larger version (PNG): purple, red; click for PDF version:purple, red. Click here for the list of dolls.

Well, this isn’t the most Halloween-ish dress I’ve ever drawn, and there’s no particular story to go with it, so I’ve added a red version in hopes you’ll overlook those flaws. It might not be a bad one for the Halloween ball, though, considering most of those in attendance seem to prefer huge poofy skirts and overdone detail. Besides, it would be harder to hide a gigantic spider under this dress: always a plus.

Not my best October, but not a total failure either. I’m feeling a little more into the idea of drawing lately, though, so we’ll see how the rest of the year goes!