Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Paper dolls from different sets

Women of a certain age probably remember playing with paper dolls when they were children, but I'm guessing that most of my (two or three) male readers never had that experience. For the men's benefit, I'll explain:

Paper dolls usually came (do they still?) in a booklet that included two or three human figures to be punched out of cardboard, plus several pages of paper clothing to be cut out with scissors and hung by folded tabs from the shoulders of the cardboard people. All the dolls in a particular booklet would have similarly painted features and be of approximately the same size. It was easy to believe they were friends or family members.

I loved paper dolls when I was a kid, and I owned several sets of them. The problem was that the sets weren't interchangeable. Even though I had lots of paper dolls, I could never pretend to host a large gathering, because the people from different sets didn't go together. For example, there might have been a set of little-girl dolls who were ten inches tall and proportionately wide, and the adult glamour girls in another set might have been only eight inches tall. There was no way to pretend the glamour girls were the mothers of the little-girl paper dolls. I had a good imagination, but not that good.

I've been thinking about this because sometimes I see real people with other real people who look like they belong to different sets. Do you know what I mean?

For example, if I see a very tall, skinny woman walking with a really short, round man, I think, ah, different sets. Or if I see a well-groomed, professionally manicured woman wearing a business suit, I'd never guess that the guy wearing overalls across the room is her husband. In my mind, her husband would be wearing a coat and tie. Hip-hop artists and country singers don't seem to me like they go together, and yet there they are, at the Grammy awards, all getting along.

The good news is that even as I notice the differences in people, even as my paper-doll-influenced mind sorts and categorizes them into sets, I've outgrown the idea that the sets shouldn't mingle. As an adult, I've learned that a gathering of people "from different sets" can be much more interesting than a group of people who are all just alike. It's diversity, it's a good thing, and I'm glad to see most of the world making progress in that direction.

Although, to be honest, I'd still have a hard time putting those eight-inch glamour girls with the ten-inch giant children.


  1. Great anology! I loved paper dolls too and had sets just like you described. Tall heavy little girls and small glamour girls. I didn't put them all together but I would try to find a friend who had the same set and we would play together and my dolls had another 2 or 3 friends! I also drew and colored 'designer' clothes for them with Crayolas. All little girls do now is think about little boys! Too bad - we had so much fun as kids.

  2. um, er, i uh, actually played, on occasion, with paper dolls.

    a male reader of a different certain age

  3. Nan16, your mention of drawing the designer clothes struck a familiar chord with me. I went through reams of paper drawing and coloring clothes, and I also drew my own paper dolls, whose features all looked like Betty and Veronica. I did that until I was 14, and I remember shoving the box of "dress designs" under the couch when my ninth-grade boyfriend came over.

    Yajeev, the more I learn about you, the more I like you. It's no wonder your wife keeps you around.

  4. I remember playing with paper dolls! Mostly I remember being frustrated because I was ham-handed with the scissors, and the paper tabs for the clothes wouldn't stay on. They used to have paper dolls in one of the ladies' magazines, was it LHJ or McCall's?

    Like Nan says, great analogy! I often look at people like that, thinking they're in the wrong set. My own niece is one, she's tall and her husband is shorter and rounder.

  5. Janet, it was McCall's, and I believe the paper doll's name was Betsy McCall. Does anyone remember for sure?

  6. I had those same sets and had the same problem! And it was McCall's!

    It's so interesting... I look at my dark skinned, brunette godchild and am amazed at how he must look like his dad instead of his blond, fair-skinned mom. Yet when we visit his maternal cousins, I'm dumbstruck at how he and the cousins could pass for twins! They must get something from their mothers' "set."

    Fascinating analogy Velvet!

    And does Yajeev have a brother???

  7. Betsy McCall! My mother got that magazine and I could hardly wait till she was done with it so I could cut out Betsy and her clothes. Geez...those are certainly some old memories! Carmon

  8. When I was growing up we were very poor. I remember the summer of 6th grade I rode my pony down the road to a neighbor's house. Her name was Lois Morris. She was an old maid and lived on the farm with her parents. She ordered McCalls magazine and she saved them and gave them to me so I could cut out the Betsy McCall dolls...I loved these dolls...This woman is still alive and is about 90 now. She still lives on the family farm.

  9. Oh my've brought back some wonderful old memories!! was Betsy McCall all right. I remember anxiously awaiting each new issue so I could cut them out after my mom was finished with the magazine. I bought my granddaughter some paper dolls a couple years ago and the clothes were magnetic! A new twist to an old game. She played with them for about 2.6 seconds, then lost interest.

  10. I had paper dolls with paper clothes, I remember playing with them for hours, but unfortunately I can't recall now exactly what they looked like. I think the doll was stiff cardboard and the clothes were paper.


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