Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Deconstructing Monster High Part 3: Fashion!

Monster High couldn't be more postmodern if it tried. Everything about it, from the characters to the very concept itself, is based on taking pre-existing ideas and throwing them into the proverbial blender. So it's no surprise that the clothes these dolls wear are full of references. When it comes to the fashion of Monster High nothing is off limits -- there are references to vintage clothing, film, music, literature, you name it. And yet when taken as whole, MH is completely original and innovative. And boy does innovation look good...

Part of what gives Monster High it's multi-generational appeal is the clever way the designers have conceptualized and implemented their ideas. The dolls are colorful and cute so it makes perfect sense that they would appeal to kids. But within that colorful cuteness is a healthy dose of cleverness. When it comes to the clothes, the references are varied and smart. I feel this is why the line appeals to adults. At least, it's a big part of why it appeals to me. Now before I get too far ahead of myself I have to point out that for both kids and adults the biggest factor in the success of MH is that it's fun! It's a dynamic world Mattel has created with these dolls, and within the line there's enough variety to always keep you interested. Because the dolls are so unique you never know what to expect so there's also the element of surprise.

Crack. Or as normal people call them, doll purses.

Grey and green Frankies.

The basic idea behind Monster High is taking historic monsters and updating them to modern times. Each character has a monster they’re based on, and that monster is the creative starting point for the theme of each doll. Frankie Stein is based on Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. In addition to the physical attributes she shares with him -- bolts in her neck and green skin that has been stitched together -- she also wears clothes that reference this theme. Electricity brought Frankie to life so a running motif in her clothes is lightning bolts. Since she was stitched together from other human parts Frankie’s clothes reference this by having mismatched seams or fabric prints that feature seams. Scissors show up a lot on Frankie too, as earrings or the heels of her shoes.

Lightning bolts for Frankie. (This is still one of my favorite MH outfits, by the way.)

Ghoulia Yelps is a zombie, a monster known for it’s appetite for brains. Her clothes often feature patterns that look like a human brain and accessories that look like stylized gore.

Stylized gore meets glam for Ghoulia. (And yes, I know SS Ghoulia is wearing one of Frankie's outfits. I love her in Frankie's clothes.)

Every doll uses a visual motif based on their monster and the theme is carried through from the clothes to the smallest of accessories. Clawdeen wears clothes that feature claws and rips and her accessories have had bites taken out of them. Lagoona is from the sea so her clothes always have a nautical theme of some sort; Cleo is a mummy so she often wears wraps and Egyptian-themed pieces.

Mummy wraps never looked so good.

Within their broad monster theme, each character also has a specific color palette. Clawdeen’s colors are purple matched with either gold or green.

Lagoona’s colors are aquatic shades of blue and green with touches of pink. Draculaura is pink and black while Spectra is white and purple (literally). Operetta‘s colors are black, white, and red.

Rockabilly Rebel

Color choices are always good on MH dolls. With few exceptions the dolls don’t come across as garish, just colorful and fun. The use of signifying colors goes a long way in maintaining the identity of the character. We all know ice blue is Abbey. Pink and black is Draculaura; it’s a major part of who she is.

Draculaura tends to sport a gothic Lolita look. Her recent Scarily Ever After doll has elements of kawaii. Here she wears her Day at the Maul outfit.

Ice blue Abbey

But where things really get interesting is in the choice of fabrics and actual cuts of the clothes. Here is where we see references to other eras. The 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s are all referenced. Although some characters are specifically linked to one era (Operetta is always the 50s, for example), others have dolls that have referenced several eras (Ghoulia comes to mind here).




I always enjoy looking out for which era a particular doll is going to reference; it’s a huge part of the fun of MH dolls for me! And I’m almost always impressed with what the Mattel design team comes up with. They’re good at touching on past eras while still maintaining a thoroughly modern look for the dolls. Sometimes the references are very subtle and other times they’re obvious.

Skull Shores Cleo hints at the 70s.

Toralei has a 50s bad girl vibe.

It's the 80s for Venus...

...and the werecat twins appear to be Michael Jackson fans.

In many ways MH clothes are ageless. For instance, Spectra’s fashion pack outfit, with it’s chic head scarf and Grace Jones-style sunglasses, isn’t something a teenager is likely to wear, but it’s not stuffy and boring either.

She's not perfect, but she's perfect for you. (Love you, Grace!)

 I know this varies for everyone, but in my mind the dolls aren’t teenagers but rather women in their mid- to late-twenties. MH dolls have unique bodies and I can’t imagine it’s easy designing clothes that function well on them, but Mattel has done just that. The toe anchor utilized to hold shoes in place is a perfect example of the innovation found in this line. It’s simple, but yes, very innovative. The shoes are just as innovative in their design. Monster High are easily the most exciting doll shoes currently being made.

Zippers and claws...

Hourglass heels help one perfect their Egyptian diva walk. Obviously.

Grab you shoes and bolt ;-)

Lightning sneakers

Egyptian gods hold Cleo's heels up. (Seriously, these shoes are amazing.)

Little (Shoe)Shop of Horrors

Still one of my favorite pairs of MH shoes.

Steampunk rocket boots for Robecca.

Fleur de lis and Chanel for Rochelle.

Best shoes ever?

Monster High dolls can wear multiple layers of clothing without looking bulky. To us it’s simple, but someone had to design these clothes to lay correctly, and do so within layers as well. And it has to fit that odd doll body. It’s not as easy as the dolls make it seem.

Cleo and Clawdeen make layers look effortless.

Sometimes the clothes are very elaborate, such as with the recent Ghouls Rule line, and at the other end of the spectrum we have the beachwear lines. Those lines have simple clothes and minimal accessories (although Skull Shores did take a surprisingly sophisticated approach to swimwear). Then there are the lines that fall somewhere in the middle -- Dawn of the Dance, Dot Dead Gorgeous -- which have fairly elaborate clothes, and often feature the most interesting outfits within the entire MH doll line.

Skull Shores Lagoona models her Dawn of the Dance dress.

There are also individually sold fashion packs for the characters.  These seem tailor made (hey, a pun!) for the dolls in the beachwear and pajama wear lines. Often the fashion packs offer clothes just as good as, or even better than, what the doll originally came in.

Skultimate Roller Maze Frankie rocking Day at the Maul.

Dead Tired Clawdeen ditched those boring pj's and styled up.

With Monster High you should expect the unexpected; there always seems to be a new character or cool, unique doll line on the way. And the flawless fashion is sure to continue to surprise and entertain too!

All images: yours truly


  1. Loving these deconstructions! Will there be a part 4?

    1. Thanks Friend! I'm not entirely sure if there'll be more. I had originally planned on it being a continuing series, and that's still not out of the question. So... maybe? :)