Despite her cloche hat, feed-sack dresses and obsession with a relic known as a typewriter, modern girls might see a lot of themselves in Kit Kittredge, the Depression-era living-doll in the new American Girl feature film.
Blond-bobbed Kit, as played by Abigail Breslin in "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" and based on a book character, is sweet, smart and spunky.
Kit and her buddies spend hours each day in a treehouse making up secret oaths of friendship. The rest of time, Kit is banging out letters on that typewriter, much in the way girls today are glued to their keyboards sending their friends e-mails and IMs. They wear metal roller skates instead of wheelie sneakers but the result is still kids whizzing down the sidewalks.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The style of the 1930s dictates Kit to wear long girlie dresses that do look dated, but her headbands, floral prints and even T-strap shoes are part of the 21st century closet.
"The thing with the shoes is that kind of Buster Brown shoes with the eyelet in the toe have been around a long, long time and they continue to make them," says Trysha Bakker, costume designer for the film. "They're like jeans for a little girl — it's just what they wear. It's what we associate when we say `so cute' to a little girl."
Bakker, who costumed previous American Girl TV movies set in 1904 and 1944, says basic garments and accessories remain consistent over different eras — it's the way they're worn or styled that evolves.
However, she notes, girls are wearing more mature styles at a younger age now, so Kit's shoes, for example, while appropriate for a 10-year-old in 1934, would more likely be worn by a kindergartner in 2008.
Bakker also points to denim jeans, an item that's been popular since it was introduced in the 19th century by Levi Strauss. The style question in the '30s, though, was whether to wear your overalls buttoned up or hanging down. The low-rise vs. high-waist debate comes much later.
The broken-in look was as popular then as it is now, but that was more out of necessity than fashion. Jeans were passed down from the oldest sibling in a family to the youngest, Bakker explains, with a few extra patches as holes grew bigger.
Clothes, whether they were store-bought or handmade, were meant to last, unlike in today's world where cheap clothes are practically disposable. Considering a dress — like the feed-sack dresses that are so important in the movie — would take several hours to make, it's really not worth the time to do the cutting and sewing yourself in a society where time is money, Bakker says.
She thinks, though, that today's girls would like the patterned dresses that came from cotton-calico flour and sugar bags. "Girls back then would collect the ones they liked to construct a dress out of two or three patterns. It's amazing how those patterns go together."
As for young boys, they emulated their fathers' daily uniform. Middle-class grade schoolers would wear button-down shirts and sometimes even ties, but their pants would be short, more like walking shorts.
And, Bakker adds, instead of fedoras, boys would wear a cap. "You had to wear hats. It was proper to wear a hat."
Hats — and gloves — were also a must for girls and women until the 1950s, when the protocol changed. It's ironic that now people wear hats to be cool or funky when they used to represent the exact opposite, Bakker observes.
But, she says, the biggest shock for the youth of the 21st century would be how small their wardrobes would be if they lived 70 or 80 years ago.
"You got two sets of play clothes and one good outfit — that might be it," she says.