Saturday, April 9, 2016

Maryellen's Poodle Skirt Outfit

Ah, the 1950s! Soda shops, drive in movies, sock hops...but also of course horrible racism, sexism, and McCarthyism...The 1950s...

The time period that, more than any other, tends to incite the most nostalgia from white Americans. American Girl was inundated with requests for a 1950s doll and they finally delivered in the form of Maryellen Larkin, a charmingly rambunctious kid who gets into all sorts of trouble in the course of her book series. 

I know a lot of people were prepared to hate Maryellen (until they read her books and fell in love). I was never one of them but I understood the sentiment. People were prepared for a too-rosy treatment of the 1950s. To a certain extent, I do think the Maryellen books (at least the first two-I have yet to read her Journey book or her mystery) is too easy on the 1950s. The complete lack of acknowledgement that people of color existed gets to me-I don't think they mention a single POC. It's like an alternate reality where problems are small and life is good.

That's how people tend to view the 1950s anyway. People see that as the golden age of America. It's easy to see why. For much of white America, at least, the 1950s were a time of economic prosperity. World War II had effectively ended the Great Depression and people were optimistic. Sure, there were worries about the Cold War and people were afraid of Communists. But overall Americans thought they had it good. And they did-unless they happened to be part of a group that didn't have it so good, like racial minorities, communists/socialists/people suspected of being either, and women who weren't so happy with the role they had been relegated to. But we forget those people.

And like every time period where we imagine things were better (remember that Trump allegedly wants to "make America great again," because many people believe that the past is always better than the present) certain images and symbols have become forever locked in our minds as emblematic of the time period and the supposed innocent happiness it involved. Certain types of cars, diners, etc.

Perhaps one of the symbols of the 1950s that people can't forget is the poodle skirt, a teen fashion trend that was all the rage during the 1950s.

History of the Poodle Skirt and the Rise of Teen Culture:

I briefly touched on this during my review of Maryellen's collection back in August. Poodle skirts are historically accurate. I know a lot of people think they're too stereotypical. But they are accurate. Girls wore poodle skirts (and as I said before, I do mean girls-women tended to not wear these flouncy garments. For younger girls, the appeal was partly because they were so flouncy-they didn't show off a woman's figure.). Women tended to wear closer fitting skirts.

It is worth noting that this was a fashion geared towards teenagers. For the first time, teen culture was having a significant impact on the culture at large. In the past, children had dressed like miniature adults. Children largely took part in many of the same activities as adults. Teenagers especially were seen as young adults. But in the 1950s (as part of a growing movement, this didn't happen overnight) the teenage years were seen as a separate, special part of development. Music, movies, and fashions began to be directed specifically toward teenagers.

These skirts were often made at home. For the first time in American history, women were not learning to sew. More and more women were buying their clothes from the store. Clothes were cheaper and people had more money.

But making a poodle skirt was easy. All you needed was a circle of felt and an applique. This was a way for girls to learn what was seen as a dying but important art (in the same way that parents insist on teaching cursive, despite the fact that I barely even write by hand anymore let alone write in cursive) in an easy way.

The skirts didn't always have poodles on them. There were plenty of designs for girls to choose from. It is perhaps more accurate to call them circle skirts. 

Maryellen's Crinoline:

I'm going to go ahead and review the crinoline along with the outfit. To get the true effect, the crinoline is needed.

Naked dolly.

Maryellen's crinoline is light pink and is made of stiff fabric. Once it is under the skirt, it is weighed down a bit but gives it a nice puff.

The crinoline is lined with light pink, satin ribbon. You can't see it once it is under the skirt but I like that little detail.

The crinoline has an elastic waistband, which makes it easy to pull on and off. 

That's what the skirt looks like without the crinoline. It looks alright and it did okay for me before I bought the crinoline but it looks much better with it. I highly recommend getting the crinoline because she wears it under basically everything.  

Maryellen's Poodle Skirt Outfit:


Maryellen wears a bright pink button down shirt (the buttons are false, the shirt Velcros up the back). 

The shirt features four buttons but once the skirt is on, you should only see three. The buttons are a brighter pink than the rest of the shirt.

The shirt features a Peter Pan collar that meets together in the center.

The sleeves are short, slightly puffed, and are of a sheer fabric. The sleeves have darker pink polka dots.

Pretty cute, huh?


The skirt is made of a black quilted fabric and features a pink poodle applique with a leash that wraps around the front of the skirt.

There's the poodle.

You can see the quilting a little better on this picture. The fabric has a good weight to it,

The poodle should sit on her side. A good way to make sure the skirt is on correctly is to make sure that the single seam on the back of the skirt lies directly in line with the seam on the back of the doll. The poodle has black bows on her head and around her neck.

I love this skirt and this is obviously where the outfit got its name.


Maryellen pairs her outfit with a pair of black and white saddle shoes. Saddle shoes feature a low heel and have a distinctive "saddle" pattern.

Below you can see Maryellen's saddle shoes compared with Molly's shoes from her camp set. I prefer Maryellen's because they are black and white instead of navy blue and white. Though the blue shoes certainly looked good with Molly's outfit, they have a hard time going with anything else. Maryellen's shoes could be paired with other outfits and I prefer versatile shoes.

There's the shoe on her foot.


Maryellen wears white socks with her saddle shoes. They're socks-nothing to write home about but they do the job.


The outfit is complete with a square of fabric that matches the sleeves of the shirt-sheer, pink, polka dotted.

Maryellen wears her hair in a high ponytail for this outfit. The kerchief is wrapped around the base of the pony. I love it!


The outfit comes together well, especially with the addition of the crinoline as you can see below. 

I really do love this outfit. I know that not everyone shares that opinion. Many people feel like the poodle skirts make Maryellen into a caricature of the 1950s. But based on my research, Maryellen wearing one is historically likely. And she was so excited to get it in her stories! One of the few new outfits she had ever owned (if not the only, I can't remember). With all those siblings, she was often dressed in hand-me-downs. I guess I caught her excitement because I love dressing her in this outfit.



  1. I like the books but agree. I don't know if Florida was that white then, it was in the South and I guess the issue with her Italian friend was the closest they got in the series (also an issue at the time) and obviously there would be a Jewish and Cuban population there. "Mad Men" had their reasons (supposed to reflect how slowly that change came), started where we saw African Americans in service jobs, then on to managerial and office jobs, and also as college students.

    1. I wasn't really shocked that she didn't *know* any people of color. I guess it was more because she didn't *notice* any at all. My grandfather who was young in the 1950s didn't know any black people but he certainly noticed them.

      Plus I think they could have hit on traditional gender roles and the Red Scare a little more but they just touched on it.

      I think they're good books and I love Maryellen-but anything good can stand up to a little criticism :)

    2. True. I'd like to imagine her meeting Melody, say in 1974

  2. This is so cool! I love it! :-)