Charlie Byrne | Fashion Editor | Sunday, 22 March 2015

In Defence of Princesses Everywhere

The Debrief: So i'm obsessed with Cinderella. And what?

In every job I've ever had, at some point, I've been given a tiara by my work mates. Whether it's at the Xmas party for Secret Santa, or when leaving one job for another, or whatever, I'm always given a tiara. In fact, I was proposed to with a tiara instead of a ring. Because I'm all about princess shit. 

The clothes, the books, the films... if it looks like some chick in a crown and a big skirt might make an appearance then I'm there. So you can imagine how it went down when our culture editor Jess asked me to go to the press preview of Disney's new Cinderella movie. 'OMG THANK YOU!!!! YOU'RE MY FAVOURITE PERSON EVER!!!' Quote, unquote. I'm such a purist that I was pissed off there wasn't a glass slipper emoji. When it came to the night of the film, I trotted out of the office wearing a diamanté headband in homage to Cinders while Jess dutifully followed with a can of diet coke and a fag in hand. 

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But it's not easy being into princess stuff these days. In fact it's getting harder. As feminism has come to the fore of our thoughts and attitudes more and more (as it should) I've found myself having to justify my obsession with sparkly, girly stuff all the time. 'Aren't princesses just women who lamely hang around waiting to be rescued?' people always ask. Some of them are, sure. And while that might not be your idea of how to get on in life, should we really judge Rapunzel for sitting tight in her tower? Isn't feminism about not hating on other women's choices?

 

And anyway, some princesses, like Merida in Brave, do their own ass kicking. I'm pleased that Disney designed a bad-ass princess, but frankly, I'm more focused on the fact that she's got brilliant hair and a fantastic cape. To be honest, if anyone tries to have an intellectual conversation with me about the independent and feminist value of princesses, I almost switch off. It's as if people forget that these women are FICTIONAL. Just like Toy Story. Or Finding Nemo. Or the Lion King. No one kicked off that Simba was the lead character, with power and responsibility, while Nala was his bit of fluff. They're fairytales - suspended realities that should be accepted as just that, offering an hour of guilt-free escapism filled with singing bluebirds. I enjoy being swept up in the romance of the outfits, the set design, and that the blokes don't pick their toenails and scratch their balls. Do fairytales damage young girls by misrepresenting reality? Not if you're given a hefty portion of realism with your dose of glitter. 

My niece is four years old, and in the last year or so I've enjoyed watching her discover the golden oldies - Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and the rest of the ballgown-clad crew. I took her for a fairy godmother experience at Harrods' princess boutique, and loved watching her face light up when her dress appeared like magic in a wardrobe. The whole boutique was full of tiny people having a ball because of made-up stories where women wear magic glass shoes. These girls, just like me, are still going to grow up to have great careers, choose their own futures, and be single/married/civil partnered according to exactly what the hell they want, even if they enjoy trying on glitzy jelly shoes on velvet cushions. 

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Of course, sometimes the stories need to be balanced out with modern day common sense. At the end of Pocohontas my niece asked, 'but... where was the happy ending?' You might think we're rearing some crown-obsessed damsel in distress who won't be able to handle the grit of real life. But the kid just nailed her first belt in Taekwondo, too. And when we explained that Pocohontas will be fine and dandy on her own, she agreed. See my point? That said, I can't argue with those who call for more diversity in fairytale films. Tiana, from The Princess & The Frog is Disney's first and only black princess, and we're yet to see a gay love story unfold. I believe it's important that fairytales start to include our whole, modern society, because happily ever afters should apply to everyone.  

On a day to day basis, as a fashion editor, it's how I dress that I often have to justify, as my princess inspired style doesn't always go down so well. Fashion should be an industry where individual style might be celebrated, it isn't really. The 'coolest' editors all have a pretty uniform style and woe betide anyone who deviates from that. Generally, sequins don't figure in the equation. Ballerina length skirts with taffeta netting? Not so much. Jewel encrusted pumps? No siree. In my wardrobe, I can count about six bejewelled Alice bands, one floor length feathered skirt, countless prom dresses, including a Cinderella blue tulle poofy creation, about 200 pieces of jewellery, maybe 30 or so sequinned things, along with one pastel diamanté clutch bag in the shape of a dragonfly. And soon, will hang my wedding dress, which frankly makes Elsa from Frozen look like she could have made more of an effort. 

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But I don't always wear this stuff. As part of my job as fashion editor, I'm an ambassador for The Debrief, and as a creative person you have the versatility to adapt your style to what is appropriate. In fact, I bought a pair of skate shoes and a leather rucksack to wear for my interview for my current job, despite never having worn trainers in my life. I didn't feel like I was hoodwinking anyone too much because I'm happy to morph my style, and while I still probably wear more sparkle than your average person, I'm now more likely to be in boyfriend jeans, trainers and a sweater than I am in a tutu. I recently went home to see my mum, wearing jeans with sequinned patches, four rings, earrings and a jewelled bag, but also a black parka over the top because it was freezing. Her face fell when I walked in the door. 'Where has all your glittery stuff gone?' she asked, aghast. It made me smile. For her, the norm is me rocking up like the Sugar Plum Fairy. 

So will I be giving up my tiara fetish any time soon? Hell no. Will I read fairytales to my own children one day? Sure. The motto from the new Cinderella film was 'have courage and be kind'. Not a bad place to start in life, if you ask me. 

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