I collect little cardboard-backed dress-up sets that are aimed at little girls. I am usually drawn towards vintage sets, but occasionally I will buy a new set if it has those elusive qualities that I’m looking for. What makes them so appealing to me are the graphics and names, but also, as a sculpture/installation based artist, I enjoy the box-art installative aspect of the sets, with the small arrangement of plastic fun composed under molded plastic. I usually keep the set intact, but sometimes what is featured is so enticing that I try to find a second one so that I can open one of them and wear the accessories. Here are a few of my favorite ones.
This is one of the newer ones that I have, probably dating from the 90s. I love that the sides are drawn to represent film perforations or sprocket holes, adding the dimension of “movie star” to this “fashion girl”. The silhouetted girls to the left of the film girl have a very Bond Girl, or even Gem and the Holligrams-esque feel to them. The jewelry is of course hideously ugly and tacky, but the overall effect is so great. This is the type of thing that I frame, or just hang unframed, as a piece of pop culture art. This set was purchased at Value Village, a local thrift store.
Great colours on this one, called Fun-n-Games. It’s a little green haired girl with red bows-mirror. And, you can look in the mirror and brush your hair with a green comb. The little pink nail polish bottle is hollow and doesn’t open but it has a cute little sticker that says “Bright Star” on it. This probably dates from around the 1970s.
I love the name of this one, Pretty Set. It’s sweet and simple, but it also sounds like a state of mind; get this toy, and you’ll be pretty set. This dates from the same period as the Fun-n-Games set and like the Fun-n-Games set it is a mirror backed by a face, in this case a lion, for some reason. I love the drawing of the little girl, and the giant pink barrettes in the set, but as I could not find a second Pretty set, I could not open this package and wear the barrettes, leaving me less “set” than I thought I would be, despite assurances to the contrary implied by the name. This and the above set were purchased at Ontario Specialty, a local store that specializes in dead-stock vintage toys and fun.
This set, Dream Bride, I found in a sad looking grocery store in New York City, and because I loved the giant heart necklace inside I bought three sets. This necklace is probably the best thing I’ve seen in one of these sets. About the size of a woman’s fist, the plastic heart has a clear plastic heart shaped bubble in the middle that has a little plastic flower inside, making this an installation within an installation. It’s installation to the power of 2 for those who prefer mathematical terms.
I love the name and the confused ideas presented here about what a princess is. Instead of a crown or scepter, there are heart shaped sunglasses and comb and mirror. This type of super pink-girly-princessy fluff is like being a drag queen for little girls, in that it represents and caricature of girlhood. It’s interesting as an object that packages tropes of modern pop girlishness. This set I also purchised in NYC, from a street vendor.
This is the only brand new set in my collection, which I purchased at a dollar store close to my home. I think this one is the funniest in terms of the confusion over what it is trying to be. It seems that it is partly an aspirational type toy for girls, in the style of Barbie’s career dolls which put Barbie in such lofty positions of astronaut and travel agent, to teach girls that they too, can be professional working women. But much as with the real Barbie brand career dolls, the precedence of looks over brains is still painfully evident in the styling, packaging and marketing of the toy. Taking a closer look at the image of “Doctor Beautiful” on the top right of the package, we see just how many disparate elements this figure is cobbled together from:
Basically, they’ve put a off-brand Barbie like head onto an illustration of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s body, and then rudimentally added a doctor’s stethoscope onto the face.
And the final non-sequitur of this toy set comes in the form of this sticker, seen on the toy stethoscope:
Why is there a little manga/anime nurse girl sticker in this set?
Well, thanks for taking my guided tour through another of my random collections. Hopefully, my enthusiasm has rubbed off on you, dear reader, and you will be convinced to start yet another Lady Heart approved, random collection!