Betsy McCall


Heidi Mittiga

Over a cup of coffee with a dear friend, a name came up that I hadn’t heard in years:  Betsy McCall.  She was the monthly paper doll friend who came to play with so many of us during our girlhood in the 1960s.  As soon as our mothers received the latest issue of the McCall’s magazine, we’d challenge them for the right to bulldoze through it, intent on our mission to find the coveted page.

Betsy’s themed outfits were the envy of her playmates.  Rick-racked summer wear, pleated school skirts with matching vests, and ruffled cotton petticoats were the objects of our desire.  Many an hour was spent blissfully folding and unfolding the paper tabs that held the clothes in place.  Each outfit had the McCall’s pattern number beside it; and, with a little begging, it wasn’t hard to convince our moms to purchase Betsy’s patterns and find the fabric to sew them so we could look just like her.  It was a brilliant piece of marketing.

But time passed, life went on, and as with other childhood friends, we lost touch with dear Betsy.  So as I sit and reminisce, I can’t help wondering what Betsy’s page might look like today if she had aged along with the rest of us and had kids in college and a grandchild or two.

If she had taken very good care of herself, she might be shown sporting clothes from the misses-sized patterns.  She would resemble the sketches on the envelopes with mile-long legs and non-existent hips.  Her waist would be trim, and her bust points would still be up where the large dots say they should be.

But, all too likely, she would have become average like the rest of us.  The sand in her hourglass figure would have shifted to perpetual pear, and she’d be relegated to the women’s-sized patterns, where even there she’d need alterations.

If we could open to Betsy McCall’s middle-aged paper doll today, we’d probably be eyeing her more out of resigned commiseration than with hopeful longing.  Her elastic-waisted slacks, stretch-knit tops, and dartless jackets just wouldn’t have the same appeal as those adorable outfits of long ago.

But then, again, if they had paper tabs . . .


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