Read an Excerpt
For Girls Only
Everything Great About Being A Girl
By Laura Dower
Feiwel and Friends Copyright © 2008 Laura Dower
All rights reserved.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT BEING A GIRL
Sugar and spice and everything nice. That's what little girls are made of.
Wait a minute. Is that really what girls are? Last time I checked in the mirror, I was made of a lot more than sugar or spice.
This nursery rhyme was penned in the early nineteenth century, but it lingers. When I was small, my mom told it to me. Back then, I didn't mind being classified as "everything nice." After all, being made of "nice" was way better than being made of "snips and snails and puppy dog tails," from the boy version of the rhyme.
In elementary school, I decided that I was going to read every book in the library. My friend John did, too. And I won this battle of the fourth-grade sexes, claiming a small victory as the "smart" girl in class. But still, I suffered a little bit from a girl identity crisis. I wasn't just nice or smart or good at softball or piano. Who was I?
When the song "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" came out in seventh grade, I gladly traded my "super-sweet" and "super-smart" and "super-sporty" girl-dentities for something a little more fun and, at the time, cool. My favorite lyric in that song was, "I wanna be the one to walk in the sun." I wanted to be in the spotlight, just like that. Although I like reading serious books, talking about serious feelings, and getting serious about anything, I know I'm also a girl who wants to have fun — and lots of it. I'm guessing you do, too. Go ahead, admit it. I won't tell anyone.
The fact is that girls like us defy expectation and explanation. We can be a kickin', kung-fu mama and a pretty princess all at the same time. A girl can chart her destiny, ace that soccer penalty kick, get an A on the science quiz, and plan the best sleepover all in the same day. She can sleep late and daydream about getting a makeover, or she can grow up to be the next conductor of an orchestra or president of the United States. Or she can do it all. Girls really do rule, just not necessarily by following the rules.
A quick note on the book's title: For Girls Only. That doesn't mean boys can't read it. They just might not get it. But that's okay. Because, girls, we're just here to have fun. And we don't need boys for that.
Your amigo / friend / buddy / pal / BFF / comrade in arms (the hugging kind), — Laura Dower xox
YOU GO, GIRL! FASHION HALL OF FAME
Our closets are crammed with last year's hot looks and this year's cool looks. No matter where we go or what we do, someone will be watching us and our clothes. Personally, I've never really cared what anyone thinks of my fashion choices, whether it be my clogs or too-faded jeans, or the funny-looking, homemade holiday sweater my aunt gave me about ten years ago. But it does make me wonder what counts as "style" through the ages. Here are some hits and misses from ancient tunics to really big hair:
Ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians don calf-length sheepskin skirts and shawls over one shoulder. A fashion statement is born.
Because the dyeing process is slow to arrive in ancient Egypt, most Egyptians wear white. But they decorate themselves with brightly colored, jeweled collars, otherwise known as ancient bling.
Greeks and Romans wear variations on the tunic including chlamys, chitons, peplos, and togas, all belted fabric of different lengths. Centuries later, college kids will throw "toga parties" at their Greek fraternities.
What's that smell? Outer clothing in the Middle Ages is rarely laundered, but some say its super-strong smoke scent (from cooking or tanning) was as good as perfume or deodorant.
Although Vikings sewed modest tunics, aprons, and cloaks for practical wear, their wardrobes are anything but ordinary. Vikings bring fine silks, linens, and wools back to Scandinavia from their trades (and raids!) in the Mediterranean and Asia.
The emperor's court in China's Sung Dynasty forces young women to bind their feet with bands of silk or cotton. These bandages are wrapped and tightened every few days for years, until the girls' feet are three or four inches long! Some say that the story of Cinderella (and Prince Charming's search for the fair maiden with the smallest foot) actually evolved from this painful, crippling ritual.
During the Crusades, rich Europeans begin to wear more silks, satins, damasks, brocades, and velvets in bright colors. With the invention of the spinning wheel and the loom, clothes become more ornate. Thankfully, it will be many, many years before tacky sequins hit the scene.
Show off your swag! European women wear the fabric-heavy houppelande gown with sleeves that reach the floor. Also all the rage in your medieval town: mantles (cloaks), templets (hair coils), headdresses, and turbans.
From corsets to farthingales (otherwise known as hoop skirts), English women get pinched, poked, and prodded for the ideal Elizabethan look. Best fashion statement of the bunch: ruffs, those honeycomb neckpieces you see in art and movies about Shakespeare.
Real stars of the Baroque period? Curls, curls, curls. Everyone's got long, poofy hair, including the men. Bring on the stylists!
Order in the court? Women wear more elaborate gowns, puffed-up petticoats, and oversized wigs like Marie Antoinette. However, as the century goes on, hoop skirts and high heels morph into narrow skirts and flat shoes. Why the switch? The French Revolution and the American Revolution are partly responsible. Popular fashion is not all about the rich anymore; it's about all the people.
Average women in the early part of the century really go for the layered look. A typical outfit: a chemise (slip), corset, more than one petticoat, underwear (also known as drawers), matching skirt and bodice, stockings, shoes, gloves, bonnet, and shawl. And you think it takes you a long time to get dressed in the morning!
Sew Important Moment: Isaac Singer patents the first-ever sewing machine, which allows mass production of clothing.
In the middle of all the bones and ruffles, a practical, American fashion takes hold. Levi Strauss introduces the first pairs of riveted jeans, and a Wild West style is born. Cartoonist Charles Dana Gibson popularizes the "Gibson Girl," showing a woman who is free to dress in comfortable skirts and tailored jackets. With the invention of the bicycle in 1878, women's sweeping skirts are replaced by bicycle bloomers.
Fashion kicks into gear mid-decade with World War I, the women's suffrage movement, and the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918. But get this: Even the strong-willed suffragettes are slaves to fashion. Some wear pencil skirts that are often so tight and restrictive that women can hardly walk in them.
Prohibition, jazz, and mass media bring a new look and a "Roaring Twenties" voice to fashion. Now women aren't afraid to drink, curse, wear short skirts and flapper dresses, and roll down their stockings to show some knee.
After the huge Wall Street crash of 1929, fashion falls in line with the Great Depression. More women sew at home and patch old clothes instead of purchasing new ones. One exception: fur. Sable, mink, chinchilla, and silver fox are in demand.
World War II ushers in the 1940s and Rosie the Riveter's working-class look is considered chic. Although artificial silk had come to the U.S. in 1910 and was named rayon in the 1920s, it isn't until the 1940s when pantyhose production really ramps up. While men are off fighting the war, women back in the U.S. hold down the home and jobs in comfortable, casual clothes. The most outrageous wartime fashion statement? Designer gas masks made to match elaborate eveningwear.
Television moves fashion into a new zone because now everyone wants to look — and be — like the families they see on TV. Top looks: conservative skirts, sweaters, pumps, and the grey flannel suit. Teens, however, get a little more adventurous. Called "bobbysoxers," they wear Converse sneakers, saddle shoes, ponytails, Levi's, penny loafers, and poodle skirts. And between Elvis Presley's blue suede shoes and beatnik culture, the times are a-changin'. ...
Baby-doll minis! Bellbottoms! The Beatles! And don't forget Barbie! Hippies and surfers set the biggest trends this decade. Like, wow, dude.
"The uglier the better," is the best way to describe this lost decade of fashion. Polyester pants, wide ties, thick platform shoes, sherbet-colored chiffon dresses, Wonder Woman boots with short shorts, and of course, punk. Okay, you can stop laughing. I was there in my too-short plaid pants, blue Winnie the Pooh sweater, and red parka with the fake white fur collar ... and it wasn't pretty.
Fashion takes the 1980s by storm ... a cyclone, in fact! Working women wear men's styles, from suit jackets to trousers to big shirts. If clothing doesn't have shoulder pads or leg warmers, it isn't any good. The biggest trend of all, however, is hair. From moussed-up to mullets, it's all a big tease.
The end of the century is marked by a sort of "anti-fashion" movement. Music dictates a lot of the trends. Grunge means dark colors and flannel shirts and an angsty, "I haven't bathed in a really long time" look. The style shifts to hip-hop with its modern bling. Skater style gets big, too. A look we'd like to forget: sagging, or wearing your pants about five sizes too big, so your underwear shows.
An important thing to remember when talking about style and fashion: One culture's ugly is another's beautiful. You may look at some of the examples here and think, "Ewww, that is soooo freaky!" However, whether women wore incredibly tall wigs or flattened their heads, they thought that particular practice made them lovel ier, not uglier.
For years, women in Chad, Africa, have had their earlobes and lips stretched by metal rings as the ultimate statement of beauty. Today, women in Western countries inject their lips with collagen and Botox. Are these two actions really all that different? Irish novelist Margaret Wolfe Hungerford once said, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." For sure.
In ancient Egypt, women wore headdresses that looked purely ornamental, but were not. They were actually "unguent [pronounced 'unjent'] cones," a combination of animal fat and wax mixed together with spices and fragrant oils. After being worn all day, a cone would gradually melt and the odors would cloak the wearer with a strong scent.
In the first century, Roman women boiled walnuts and leeks together and applied the gooey mixture to their hair to make it dark and shiny. In the fourteenth century, women boiled lizards in olive oil to produce their sleek conditioner. Today, people wash their hair with everything from avocados to beer to mayonnaise.
In the Middle Ages, European women carried long, forklike back-scratchers to reach their heads beneath fancy hairdos. What were they scratching? Lice and fleas. Women started shaving their legs and armpits in this era, too, but it wasn't for beauty purposes. It discouraged the bugs from sticking around.
After 1760, the higher the hairdo got, the better it looked. Women piled on horsehair, natural hair, and wooden padded frames to create a tower of hairdo — sometimes their 'dos would be as high as thirty inches! This was, of course, a huge hindrance for women getting through doorways and into carriages. In 1776, the roof of St. Paul's Cathedral in London was raised primarily to make room for women's wigs, which kept catching on fire when they bumped up against the chandeliers!
During the nineteenth century, women used heavy makeup and beauty patches of velvet or silk to cover smallpox scars and large, black skin spots. Sometimes, the spots were "designer," shaped like stars, moons, or hearts. The placement of the patches was significant, too. A patch on your right cheek meant you were married, but a patch near the squint of your eye meant you were having an affair. How scandalous!
In the late eighteenth century, Napoleon's wife, Empress Josephine, thought her hands were so unattractive that she had gloves made to cover her hands and arms up past the elbow. Voila! The opera-length glove was born.
Corsets have been around for thousands of years. Popular legend says that most nineteenth century Victorian women, hoping to have the perfect seventeen-inch waist, squeezed into corsets a few sizes too small and ended up fainting because they cut off their circulation. Although it's true that corsets were hugely popular, none could instantly reduce a waistline to such teeny proportions. It took many years of corseting to train the waist to be smaller and corsets came in a range of sizes all the way up to size forty-two.
In the 1920s, women wore a flapper style of dress. But to make the dress look straight and clean, they also wore a flattener bra. Yeowch! Today, designers promote the opposite kind of undergarment. Women don items like the Wonderbra to lift and enhance their chests. Go figure!
Thanks to incredibly well-preserved ancient Egyptian tombs, we have untouched evidence of makeup dating as far back as 10,000 B.C. Egyptians wore heavy eye shadow and kohl (black) eyeliner, lip ointments, and henna (reddish-brown) nail stain. They also traced lines of blue paint and liquid gold around their faces and other body parts.
Roman women loved makeup, too. The Roman philosopher Plautus wrote, "A woman without paint is like food without salt." Women applied pastes (made from things like lentils, honey, wheat, eggs, and other ingredients) to make their skin look as pale as possible. Consumption (or, "sickly") was the "in" look. And the paler a woman was, the wealthier she appeared to be. While poorer women worked outdoors under a hot sun, wealthy women had lives of leisure away from the burning rays.
In the nineteenth century, Victorian women carried on the pale tradition at great risk to their own health. Homemade cosmetics included dangerous compounds like arsenic, lead, or mercury. There were many wild ways that women achieved their whiter shade of pale.
Staying indoors with blackened curtains and no contact with the sun
Painting their face with paints and white powder
"Bleeding" themselves with leeches
Drinking vinegar and avoiding fresh air
Applying urine to fade freckles
Painting the veins on their faces to make their skin appear translucent
Washing the eyes with lemon and orange juice, or rinsing the eyes with belladonna, a dangerous juice from the poisonous nightshade plant — all to make their eyes appear brighter against their pale skin
By the turn of the twentieth century, attitudes about makeup shifted. Women bit their lips or pinched their cheeks to get more color, rather than applying makeup! Between World War I and World War II, there were many developments in the field of cosmetics. Women like Helena Rubenstein, Elizabeth Arden, and Coco Chanel produced an array of lipsticks, blushers, shadows, cleansers, nourishing creams, tonics, lotions, and other makeup and skin-care products.
In the 1950s, color movies influenced the makeup industry. A face appearing on a huge movie screen showed every blemish and wrinkle. How to fix that? Makeup artist Max Factor created "pancake" makeup, a foundation that made all skin look smooth and flawless.
Today, although arsenic drinks, giant wigs, and white-powdered skin are mostly long gone, they've been replaced by a whole new lineup of beauty must-gets: fat-reducing creams, hair extensions, and self-tanner in about fifty different shades. Beauty is big business that keeps on getting bigger.
Chances are you may have to get braces — if you haven't gotten them already. A lot of times, our teeth just don't grow in straight. But braces don't have to be scary or painful. I won't go so far as to say, "Braces are the most amazing things EVER!" because then you know I would be lying through my ... er ... teeth. But braces have come a long way from the clunky, metal-mouth contraptions of long ago. These days, they're less noticeable, they're available in an assortment of cool colors, and they're doing something fabulous for your smile and your health.
A FEW BRACING FACTS:
Braces don't hurt — except when they are first fitted and sometimes when they are tightened. Oh, and if you get socked in the face.
Braces do not usually change the way you talk. You should have the same ability to speak, sing, yell at the cat, and make fun of your little brother.
Excerpted from For Girls Only by Laura Dower. Copyright © 2008 Laura Dower. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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