If you click over to Princess-Awesome.com you won’t be able to purchase any of the clothing items the company sells. This is because it has completely sold out of all of its merchandise. In fact, it’s launched a Kickstarter campaign in order to get the funds to create more of its product.
And what is the product? Girly dresses. We all know what those are, right? Dresses that are cute and feminine, made of soft, pliable fabrics, in almost exclusively pastel or hot colors, and decorated with, you know, girly things: flowers, ribbons, sparkles, hearts, unicorns, ponies, rainbows, kittens… need I say more?
However, the question this company asks, among other questions, is, “What exactly is a girly dress?” And the answer Rebecca Melsky and Eva St. Clair, the Princess Awesome founders, give is that they’re interested in,
“…making clothes for girls that really reflect the range of interests that girls have, and the range of interests that parents want to encourage and support for their girls. We know that girls like lots of things—they like dresses and trucks—and they should have clothes that reflect that. …We feel strongly that girls should not have to decide between wearing girly things and wearing math-y things, or pirate-y things, or dinosaur-y things.”
This means that the rainbow graphic on one dress is the jumbled repetition of the mathematical symbol “π.” It means one circle-skirted frock is printed with a train track at the waist and a train circling the skirt’s hem. It means that when you are four years old and want to dress up for a special occasion, the thing that makes your dress fancy is Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” image illuminating its fabric, or the vibration of Monet’s “Water Lilies.” All done in durable, play-resistant fabrics.
I spent my young childhood in the ‘70s. It is safe to say that clothes for both kids and adults existed on a slippery slope of weirdness, sliding into itchiness, sliding into ugliness. And I mean that in a good way. That is, there was a new fluidity in what we deemed an acceptable children’s wardrobe. And the boundaries of what constituted dressy clothes or casual clothes or play clothes often blurred. The sixties were right behind us, and the hippies were still with us. Back-to-nature-let-your-hair-down allowed for greater degrees of choice, messiness, earthiness. The Women’s Movement liberated children, too. Free to Be You and Me was the anthem of a generation. It was ok to wear clothes that could get dirty—and it was ok for girls to get dirty! Not all girls, of course. But I think more than before. My rainbow-checked, bell-bottomed, frayed-at-the-hem pants, coupled with my Welcome Back Kotter t-shirt was the height of chic, in my book. Girly colors, Television shows, T-shirts, all one big prét-a-porter of personal fabulousness. I could be all these parts of me at the same time. All of my selves did not have to be divvied up and limited to certain discreet occasions.
Ms. Melman and Ms. St. Clair trust they are creating the same kind of multiplicity, “…girls are awesome and girls decide what it means to be girly.” As more parents buy these clothes for their kids I will be curious to read whether the children have a different experience wearing them, a richer experience, than they might have limited to the hearts and flowers variety. In the theatre, when an actor finally dons her completed costume, the costume acts a mask of revelation, yet another way for character to reveal itself, express itself. Does the substitution of a daisy for a dinosaur have the same effect? Does the hat indeed make the man or, in this case, the robot dress makes the girl?…