Living Dolls

Due to a slight ’70s obsession, I’ve managed to accumulate quite the collection of Marcia Brady dresses over the years. You know the style: Peter Pan collars, empire waists, bright little floral prints, puffy sleeves and mini lengths.

Recently, I began selling off some of my more flamboyant frocks on eBay, and I soon learned the buzzwords that sellers use to lure fans of this prepubescent, über-femme fashion. “Lolita” always seemed to attract bids, then there were “LBG” and “fruits.” LBG stands for “little big girls,” and fruits refers to the hypercolored, mismatched Japanese look. Think Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku girls but less street. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one into wearing this seemingly innocent look.

While clicking around eBay, I discovered this wasn’t just a fashion trend, it was a real community, and that thousands of gals around the country are actually making and trading DIY-style kiddie-lookin’ clothes out there. Google “LBG” along with the other terms mentioned above, and you’ll find a host of Web sites that lean toward the fetishistic. “Gothic Lolita” is, in fact, its own subculture, with dark yet childlike getups epitomized by companies like The White Peacock (, out of Lomita, which sells French-maid and uniform-inspired frocks and “funeral dresses” done with bows and ruffles. Very Wednesday Addams.

Giddle Partridge, a local artist and singer (currently recording an album with noise pioneer Boyd Rice), is, like me, a fan of the more retro kiddie look. “My fashion preferences are inspired by my heroes Dolly Parton and Tinkerbell,” she says. “There are certain inventions like the baby-doll dress that nobody can ever re-create. Sure, you can do it better by making it more couture with intense new fabrics, but going to a thrift store and finding a one-of-a-kind dress that you know nobody else will have beats buying a new $500 Marc Jacobs reproduction. 1960s- and 1970s-style dresses are very psychedelic in patterns and colors, and dressing bright and obnoxious is what I do best. I love dresses that you can wear knee socks with; it’s like being a sexy grown-up Girl Scout.”

For me, it’s simply a way to revisit the uncomplicated bliss of my childhood. But I had vainer reasons too. These styles, ironically, suited my womanly body. Indeed, any gal who’s, say, a little curvy knows that empire waists and A-line cuts are wonderfully forgiving. You can be foxy and funky over 30 even when you don characteristically dainty, girlish duds. It’s not about trying to look younger, really, it’s about a juxtaposition of innocence and grown-up self-confidence (though some feminists might say otherwise), and mixing the hard with the soft. Dyed hair and heavy makeup balancing out the virginal vibe of lace and satin. It’s no coincidence that the Suicide Girls logo depicts a gal with pigtails, and let’s not forget the classic Catholic-schoolgirl ensemble, a getup that no man seems immune to (even if they won’t admit it for fear of seeming pervy). Heck, it made Britney Spears — and, like, every porn star in the biz — famous.

The current craze leans more toward the demure, though. Flip through any fashion mag right now and it’s clear: Girlie dressing is so back. Must-have shades are virgin white and Victorian cream. The trend has helped me sell off some of the more costumy vintage dresses I used to wear, but lots of them still hang in the closet waiting for the right occasion. Like the purple-velvet ’60s number with a big satin bow that’s cut almost exactly like Michael Kors’ new lacy minidress I covet. But it’s just under $1,500, and most other designer styles aren’t much cheaper. Luckily, local designers who’ve been evoking the girlie trend for a few years now are more affordable. Jared Gold’s kaleidoscopic designs include fun little strapless minidresses and puffed-sleeve polos made with rainbow-bright Holly Hobbie prints, and textures that are pure storybook whimsy.

Speaking of puffed sleeves, Smashing Grandpa made them a basic years ago, and their supersoft tees in hues of baby pink and powder blue, emblazoned with Victorian nymphs on the chest, are an easy way to get the ironic age-of-innocence look. Designer Leslie Gardner (full disclosure, she’s a pal) is now working on a line of high-waisted dolly dresses and long tees with multiple rows of ruffles on the backside that you pull down over your butt. Hotsie totsie!

Yeah, everything comes back, except, of course, youth. I’m realistic. There will come a day when even my favorite little-girl dress will seem completely and utterly inappropriate. Maybe I’ll have a daughter to save it for, maybe not. In the meantime, as I contemplate that possibility while preparing myself for other grown-up stuff like mortgages and career advancement, I’m gonna keep at least one mary jane planted on the Good Ship Lollypop for as long as I can.

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