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In Praise of the Little Fancy Bitch Aesthetic

On the stylistic virtues of Veruca Salt, Nellie Oleson, and Muffy from ‘Arthur.’

Photo: Brenda Mills

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In ninth grade, my English teacher read us The Destructors by Graham Greene. In it, two very bad teenage boys do something bad. I can’t remember what it was (bad), but I do remember that the overall takeaway of the story was that they were bad, very bad, and when you leave here and go out into the world, do not be like them, which is bad.

The teacher then asked us to raise our hands if we had any sympathy for these, indeed, truly terrible characters. From the very front row of the classroom, I raised mine immediately, and it wasn’t until I turned around that I realized I’d been the only one to do so. I sheepishly lowered my hand and the teacher grimaced as if to say “I look forward to reading about your future murder trial.” Everyone laughed, and then he changed the subject.

This was not the first time I realized I was more interested in terrible people than good ones, at least when it comes to stories. I love a villain, and over the years, I’ve developed a particular soft spot for a certain kind.

Veruca Salt. Muffy Crosswire. Lavinia in A Little Princess. Angelica Pickles. These are the characters little girls are told, over and over again, not to emulate. You can be anything, the world says, but definitely don’t be that.

Here is a very short quiz to help you determine whether a character is going to be one of these: Look at her collar. Is it loose, dirty, or not even worth describing at all? If so, she’s a sympathetic character who will probably accomplish some kind of impressive and noble feat before the story’s end.

But is her collar frilly, high-necked, brightly colored, and/or heavily accessorized? Congratulations! You’ve found the character on whom the writer has projected his or her own fears about femininity and materialism — or as I call her, the Little Fancy Bitch.

That is a term of endearment, by the way, because I believe this trope to be woefully misunderstood. The funny thing about the Little Fancy Bitch is that often she isn’t really a villain at all — most of the time, she’s actually a friend or acquaintance of the protagonist, written into the story solely to show how cool and chill said protagonist is. But to me, she just illustrates how overrated being cool and chill is.

Main characters in children’s books, from Cinderella to Charlie Bucket, are generally polite, inquisitive, courageous, and kind, and exist so that all (non-sociopathic) children will identify with them. These are all wonderful traits, to be sure — but ultimately, these characters don’t really bring much personality-wise besides a certain naiveté that gasps “Who, me?! A protagonist?!”

In contrast, there’s the Little Fancy Bitch, whose general attitude is “You’re damn right, I’m the protagonist” — even when she’s not. Cutting and sometimes cruel, she’s a prissy snot who tries way too hard and cares only about herself, repelling others in the process. Which, fair. You say things like “Hmph!” while crossing your arms over your immaculate lace blouse and all the other nine-year-olds will hate you. That is how childhood works.

But I’ve had a fondness for this sort of character that’s only grown over the years, and I think I know why. The Little Fancy Bitch is a trope that’s supposed to warn children against giving in to their most stereotypically girlish impulses — caring deeply about their appearance, judging others and excluding them accordingly, and demanding attention and praise at all times. But what it ends up offering is an alternative to the quiet, curious protagonist. In a world of bookworms and tomboys, the Little Fancy Bitch is an unapologetic try-hard who has more important things to take care of than worrying about what everyone else thinks of her.

It’s also important to mention, I think, that the Little Fancy Bitch is ultimately a comedic device. She’s there because the things she says are hilarious, and in children’s books, the girls don’t often get to be the ones delivering the jokes.

Above all, however, she’s stylish as hell. And from books to films to TV cartoons, her fashion sense has remained astonishingly consistent, combining traditional notions of old money with maximalist femininity. Think frilly, over-accessorized pinafores, steam-cleaned pea coats, blindingly white knee socks, and hair that behaves exactly how it’s supposed to.

Moreover, every Little Fancy Bitch throughout history has had one signature, defining accessory. And with the fanciest and bitchiest of seasons upon us, it’s time you found your own fancy, bitchy accessory and embraced your inner spoiled (albeit heavily misunderstood) brat.

Veruca Salt, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

While the red dress Julie Dawn Cole wore in the 1971 theatrical adaptation Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is certainly iconic, the original illustrations in the 1964 Roald Dahl novel depict Veruca in a white fur coat, pink hair bow, and pink tutu. In keeping with tradition, here is a Stella McCartney version that is just as bitchy as that time Veruca and her family literally stole their Golden Ticket from one of their OWN FACTORY WORKERS.

Shop: Stella McCartney Oversize Faux Fur Jacket, $1,720.

Lucy van Pelt, Peanuts

Having never seen a Peanuts movie, my understanding is that Lucy van Pelt’s whole deal is sobbing theatrically, engaging in light-to-medium bullying, and spitting real feminist truths, like “Boys are lucky. They never have to worry about things like sauce pans.” All this while wearing a very prissy blue dress, which MSGM has given a very Tumblr-esque, 2016-meets-1965 makeover.

Shop: MSGM Sheer Long-Sleeve Ruffle Dress, $513.

Samantha Parkington, American Girl

Not everyone will agree here, but out of all the American Girls, Samantha is both the fanciest and the bitchiest. Maybe not in the traditional sense of the word, but, like others on this list, Samantha has the sort of attitude that only comes from a life of sheltered privilege and the ability to say things that are naive or ignorant but that sound polite, but only because she’s wearing a beautiful plaid cape. Here’s one by Vanessa Seward that sadly does not come with a muff.

Shop: Vanessa Seward Conan Cape, $1,015.

Muffy Crosswire, Arthur

Muffy — whom the animators decided should be a monkey for what I assume is some kind of ironic statement — was always portrayed as a foil to her nerdy tomboy best friend Francine. While their opinions on the merits of beauty pageants differ, however, they’re both basically decent kids, except that Muffy gets to live in a giant mansion and wear impeccable cream-colored blouses. Note the intentional impracticality of such a garment; if you’ve got $390 to spend on a blouse, then you are sort of required to know how to consume soup without spilling it all over yourself.

Shop: Needle & Thread Lace-Trimmed Silk Chiffon Blouse, $390.

Eloise, Eloise at the Plaza

Eloise has all the makings of a Little Fancy Bitch with very little of the bitchiness, although in my opinion if you are an American who pronounces “rather” like “rawther” that makes you at least some degree of a snob. Also, to this day, the Plaza Hotel has an Eloise Suite that is available for the highly bitchy price of $2,043 per night, plus tax. For about one-fourth of that cost, here are some suspender trousers that a more chilled-out Eloise at the Wythe Hotel might wear.

Shop: Y-3 Suspender Trousers, $470.

Lavinia, A Little Princess

Inarguably the bitchiest character on this list, Lavinia (no last name necessary) is a downright monster who orders Sara to build a fire, then instructs her to not touch anything else in her bedroom because her hands are gross, then makes fun of her servant body odor, all while brushing her glorious brown hair. There’s no question, however, that her elaborately collared green dress is on point. This Burberry Prorsum version combines all the attitude with none of the, y’know, horrifying class-based cruelty.

Shop: Burberry Prorsum Stitched Georgette Dress, $2,785.

Marie, The Aristocats

Here is where my thesis that you can identify a Little Fancy Bitch by her collar proves itself infallible: It even applies to cats. Unlike her less-cute brothers, Marie wears a bubblegum pink collar with a giant bow, which she accessorizes with a second bow on the top of her head. The entire basis of her personality is that she demands to be treated far better than her brothers simply “because I’m a lady, that’s why.” Fair point! Plus, the entire movie centers on the fact that the Aristocats are way better than all the other regular cats, which is very bitchy. Also bitchy: This choker made of pink velvet and actual pearls.

Shop: Aamaya by Priyanka Velvet and Pearl Choker, $370.

Alice, Alice in Wonderland

Another possibly controversial opinion of mine is that I firmly believe Alice’s insistence on excessive politeness veers on bitchy, but in the best way possible. She questions absolutely everyone and everything around her, which is pretty ballsy for a seven-year-old, and demands for everything to make logical sense in a world defined by its nonsensicality. Plus, she’s rather eager to launch into some very heated discussions with a certain invisible cat, a chain-smoking caterpillar, and an insane milliner, all of whom are incredibly unhelpful. Her pinafore, however, may be her most lasting legacy, and even though it’s been sullied by horrific sexy-fied versions in pre-packaged Halloween costumes, this Delpozo pinafore is okay for adults to wear.

Shop: Delpozo Layered Bicolor Pinafore, $1,623.

Nellie Oleson, Little House on the Prairie

No matter how old or evil she becomes, there is always one constant in prairie villainess Nellie Oleson’s life: her giant, obnoxious hair bows. Described by the Library of Congress as “wealthy, spoiled, and only happy when she is the center of attention,” Nellie is intensely manipulative, prissy, and the proud owner of the world’s most maniacal stinkface. A sort-of-but-maybe-not-really-unrelated fact is that the actress who played her in the long-running TV series, Alison Arngrim, is also impossible to differentiate from Game of Thrones child dictator Joffrey Baratheon, which just gave me an idea for my next piece.

Shop: Dolce & Gabbana Embellished Bow Headband, $1,395.