Mourning Shirley Temple and the Loss of the Little Girl Dress
Out for a walk, Madge ran into a next-door neighbor dressed in skinny jeans tucked into tall black leather boots. Her long nubby sweater was capped off with a wool scarf, knotted just so. She was so in style. She was . . . in second grade.
Shirley Temple Black passed away this month at age 85 and the whole world paid tribute to this magnificent woman. She was the ultimate definition of reinvention, capping off a successful movie career with an amazing track record in diplomacy. Who else could carry a movie at three, save a movie studio and win an Oscar at six and then be present, as our Ambassador to Czechoslovakia, at the Velvet Revolution in 1989? Temple Black was also an early role model in women’s health issues going public with her personal battle with breast cancer and ultimate mastectomy. She was a real hero of mine.
With Shirley’s passing, Madge is also mourning the death of another great American institution – the little girl dress.
Growing up in the early 1960s, I had a Shirley Temple dress purchased at Buck’s Department Store in downtown Wichita, Kansas. Made by Cinderella, it came with an official Shirley Temple hang tag. I got it for Christmas in 1961. Dark green, it had a crinoline petticoat that made it stick out just so. Just like Shirley’s. I remember it like it was yesterday. God, I loved that dress.
My generation was the last one to buy Shirley Temple merchandise. Though her heyday was in the 1930s, by the 60s her movies were showing up on afternoon television. For me it was the “Cash Call Movie” at 4:00 p.m. TV host John Froome would periodically break into the movie, draw numbers painted on ping-pong balls out of a wind machine, and then call the resulting phone number. I never got that call but I did learn all the words to “On The Good Ship Lollypop.”
Though I loved my dress it didn’t mean wasn’t also a tomboy. One minute all dressed up, the next climbing trees. All my friends had the same type of dresses. If not by Cinderella, then by Merry Girl or Wee Tog. Ask anyone from my generation or older if they remember a favorite dress from age 7 through 12 and chances are you will get a cherished memory.
Now, except for the ever-present and over-the-top princess costume, little girls don’t get to look like little girls any more. Today they go directly from toddler to miniature adults. By the age 12 or 13 girls look like they are going clubbing, staggering around on those high heels. Hey, I’m all about fashion. But there is more than enough time to be an adult or at least look like one.
Of course every generation thinks the next one is going to hell in a handbag. But, at the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy or worse anti-feminist, I wish young girls could still have the experience I had. The chance to own that special little girl dress. So a tip of Madge’s hat to Shirley and her lasting legacy to me. I’ll never forget that dress.
Thank you to Christina Ghimenti at Paw Print Boxers.com for the use of her marvelous Shirley Temple Cinderella ad.