Decoder Ring explores the history and symbolism of the paper doll.

Paper Dolls Are Thin, Fragile, and More Vital Than You Know

Paper Dolls Are Thin, Fragile, and More Vital Than You Know

Cracking cultural mysteries.
Aug. 27 2018 6:00 AM

Decoder Ring: The Paper Doll Club

Who still plays with paper dolls?

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Benjamin Frisch

Listen to this episode of Decoder Ring in the audio player below:

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Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every month, host Willa Paskin, Slate’s TV critic, takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speaks with experts, historians, and obsessives to figure out where it comes from, what it means, and why it matters.

Today: Producer Benjamin Frisch co-hosts the show to explore how paper dolls were a ubiquitous part of children’s lives for decades, and then mostly disappeared. David Wolfe was a boy growing up in the 1950s, with paper dolls as his primary means of accessing a world of glamour and beauty he didn’t see at home in Ohio. He’d go on to a career in fashion, guided by his paper dolls, just as paper dolls were falling out of fashion, to be replaced by Barbies and other plastic dolls.

This episode is about paper dolls, their surprising connections to fashion, nostalgia, queerness, and David’s extraordinary career.

Links and further reading on some of the things we discussed on the show:

Decoder Ring is produced and edited by Benjamin Frisch.

Benjamin Frisch is the producer of Slate's Culture Gabfest and the author of the graphic novel The Fun Family.

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.