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

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.

Shirley Temple

The Little Girl Dress

With Shirley’s passing, Madge is also mourning the death of another great American institution – the little girl dress.

Shirley temple 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.  in Wichita, Kansas.  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.”

Shirley Temple dress ad

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.

Madgeshatboxvintage Shirley Temple dress
1950s shirley temple modeling dress by Cinderella
Temple in a Cinderella ad, 1959.
Courtesy of Christina Ghimenti, Paw Print

Today’s Girls

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 trendy.  By the age 12 or 13  girls look like minature adults going clubbing,  Yesterday I saw a young child, no more than five, with the word Roots in sparkles across her rear end.   Hey, I’m all about fashion.  But there is more than enough time to be an adult or 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.

Shirley Temple Dress
Christmas with Dad, 1961.
His little princess
Love & Hats Madge

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Comment Below


  1. To make you feel better. I was born in 1983 and had many special dresses. Most were made by my grandmother with that “look”. I remember so many peter pan collars and puffed sleeves with lace. In fact, our pictures from when we were little are never out of style! As good fashion never really is out of style. I still wear dresses all the time. I only own a few pairs of “work jeans”. Now, my baby is sleeping in the next room and I found this article by typing in “Shirley temple dresses”. It looks like I’m going to need to learn to sew for these.

  2. Oh yes I had the dress and the ruffled socks and the patent leather shoes and it was wonderful! My favorite skirt had “button button who’s got the button” embroidered around it! It was wonderful for spinning!

  3. I gave my Shirley Temple doll a great big hug from Aunt Madge after reading your lovely tribute!

  4. My memories of Shirley and her movies are vague but Madge you brought some real joy to the memories I do have. Thank you for the trip down memory lane and for sharing your personal story.

  5. I remember my Mom giving me a Shirley Temple home perm when I was 4 in 1959 with the rubber rods, my hair looked just like Shirley Temple’s .. I love the memories., and the Dress!

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