From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism




Introduction to Couture 101

Before we delve into the difficulties of designing doublets for dragons or flame-resistant undergarments for would-be dragonslayers, let us consider six instructive examples.

Firstly, Cinderella. Set aside the matter of her ballgown. Any fairy godmother can conjure a fabulous confection of chiffon or taffeta. Focus instead on the shoes. Glass slippers! A brilliant stroke! Doubtless uncomfortable, yet a perfect illustration of matching the accessory to the client. Cinderella’s figure and face were passably fine, but her feet were divine. Darlingly diminutive, even her toes an elegance.

Secondly, Snow White. Again, set aside the mundane matter of her garments. As with Cinderella, one must suit one’s plans to one’s client. Contemplate Snow White’s unique complexion. An asset or a liability? Ponder the challenge of selecting makeup in such an extreme instance. Should one apply powder to offset that inhuman pallor? Or should one permit that pallor to stand as a stark statement? Should one select a tint of eyeshadow to compliment it or to distract from it?

Thirdly, Rapunzel. Once again, the matter of her clothes is secondary. In this case, the salient feature of the patron is her hair. Golden in color, which is charming enough if you like the conventional. The excessive length, however, poses a problem. Having once had the privilege of designing for Queen Rapunzel, I hope never again to receive such an honor. I was young, overconfident, and overly optimistic. My initial efforts met with setbacks. (As a sidenote, cats are tiresome to train.) Fortunately, the queen was patient, a rarity in royalty. And at length, forgive the pun, I settled on a simple presentation, arranging her hair as a train with a dozen pages to carry it.

Fourthly, Little Red Riding Hood. She represents the class of customers with a predefined signature look, to wit, of course, the hood. If the inclusion of, let us say, a red hood is de rigueur, one must try to style around that constraint. Think of what fabric, or cut, or jewelry might offer novelty. Think about whether novelty should be attempted at all. Less is often more.

Fifthly, Rumpelstiltskin, an object lesson for those of you with the most talent. Remember that we are all fallible. Rumpelstiltskin wove straw into gold. Straw into gold! And even so, his arrogance brought about his downfall. Once upon a time, I myself achieved a modicum of fame by stitching moonlight into silk, and I allowed that fame to go to my head. If not for my grandmother’s intercession, I’d still be counting spiders down in the dungeon. (Sidenote: it is neither law nor art that represents the pinnacle of civilization, but rather plumbing. Its lack is barbaric.)

Sixthly, what can we learn from the frog prince? Answer: that sometimes nothing we do is of any consequence. Let a person possess sufficient wealth or high enough rank, and they will captivate the crowd. In the meantime, let me teach you how to cater to the caprices of the rich, so that you may carve a comfortable living from their excesses.

Please turn to page twenty-seven in the textbook.

Mary Soon Lee

Mary Soon Lee. A half-Asian, half-white woman whose hair is starting to go gray, wearing a green silk blouse, in front of shelves filled with books and one teddy bear.

Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but has lived in Pittsburgh for over twenty years. Her latest books are from opposite ends of the poetry spectrum: Elemental Haiku, containing haiku for the periodic table, and The Sign of the Dragon, an epic fantasy with Chinese elements, winner of the 2021 Elgin Award. She hides her online presence with a cryptically named website ( and an equally cryptic Twitter account (@MarySoonLee).