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Royal Rush
Once upon a time, in the kingdom of Holland, little girls learned their manners by playing princesses…
By: Marla Miller – Chronicle Staff Writer

Classic stories like “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty” have innocently allowed young girls through the ages to enter a fairy tale world filled with wonder and dream about their own happily ever after. But thanks to an apparent age-related interest in princesses, savvy marketing tactics and an exploding teen-girl population, more and more books, movies, apparel, toys, and even teas are blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. Holland-based Etissentials has tapped into the toddler and teen market, using the princess peg to teach etiquette fundamentals and manners to children. Etissentials will offer a Sleeping Beauty Princess Tea at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, July 30 at the Alpen Rose Restaurant in Holland.

Stacey Carpin founded the business three years ago, and draws 75 to 100 guests per tea. Customers come from Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and throughout Western Michigan.

“The Main Focus of Etissentials is to offer educational entertainment where children are welcome to be in a fantasy world,” Carpin said. “Parents find value in the lesson, and the little girls like to get dressed up and spend time with their favorite character. I’m proud we’re able to provide that opportunity.

Aimed at girls ages 3 to 7, attendees enter each event as little princesses, and are encouraged to wear tiaras and frilly dresses. Mothers and grandmothers are greeted as queens and fairy godmothers.

Teas with alternating themes are held throughout the year. They include story time, an etiquette lesson, pictures with the featured character on her throne, and a nutritious lunch that opens with grace. Past themes have highlighted Belle from “Beauty and the Beast,” ballerinas from “The Nutcracker,” and bunnies and teddy bears.

We do have certain character parties like those with Snow White and Cinderella that do fill up early,” Carpin said. “Thirty percent of reservations are for women of three generations. We love to see that. It’s something special they won’t experience anywhere else.”

Carpin tailors one event per year to boys, but they are welcome to attend any of the teas. Normally 3 to 5 boys attend each event.

A mother who had no daughters brought her two sons to the June 25 Princess Tia Tea, and the boys enjoyed playing in her glamour trunk, Carpin said. (Princess Tia is Etissentials’ official princess and she hails from the land of manners.)

“The boys put on bandanas and pearls, and gloves and they loved it,” she said. “It’s about them just being children and having fun.”

Julie Steketee, of North Muskegon said her daughter, Emilia, 6, attended Etissentials Snow White and Cinderella tea parties with a great aunt, and definitely found it memorable.

“It’s fun for the child and a nice multigenerational thing to do,” Steketee said. “She (Emilia) can tell you who she saw, what she did. She came home and said, 'Mom, this is how you’re supposed to fold you napkin in your lap.'”

Emilia has now moved on to Bratz dolls and Lizzie McGuire toys, but her 3-year old sister, Carina, is entering the princess phase.

“I think a lot of it has to do with marketing and the things kids see on television,” she said. “Princesses are beautiful and fancy. I think girls are attracted to that.”

Emilia explained it simply: “The dresses just look pretty to me,” she said. “I like all the princesses.”

Wanting to play princess during the toddler and preschool ages is a normal, healthy part of development for girls, said Lisa Sias, a social worker and supervisor of youth services at Community Mental Health Services of Muskegon County.

“It’s not that they believe they are a princess or are going to grow up and be a princess,” she said. “It’s like little boys and Power Rangers. It’s along the lines of imaginary friends. It’s all imagination and fantasy, and typically, they grow out of it.”

The Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts recently experienced the princess frenzy. Hundreds of tiara-wearing, wand-toting girls arrived for the May production of “Cinderella” in hopes of getting a picture with Cinderella and Prince Charming.

Organizers underestimated interest and were forced to turn people away.

“We had no idea that we’d have that many girls,” said Jamie Gillard, marketing and sales director. “It was very cool to see.”

She noted many of the attendees were young and supposed their mothers dressed them for the event.

Steketee saw a similar sight when she dropped off her daughter at the two Etissentials tea parties.

“Some parents take it very seriously and their kids are dressed to the nines, and some parents are more casual about it and let their kids wear dress up clothes,” she said.

Parents need to keep the phase in perspective, avoid overspending on princess garb and monitor the pretend play, Sias said.

Cindy Sawyer of Whitehall, who has two daughters, ages 8 and 4, agrees. Her oldest daughter, Kallan, started wanting to be a princess around age 3 after watching Walt Disney-themed princess movies, but has since outgrown it. Kallan wrote letters to Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella with hopes of delivering them to Florida’s Disney World.

“Maybe because they’re pretty,” Kallan said when asked why she liked them. “They live in big castles and they can do a lot of stuff.”

Sawyer’s younger daughter, Maren, also like playing dress-up, but isn’t as into the characters. “Any little girl likes to think she’s pretty and special, as she should,” Sawyer said. “But I don’t think my girls are going to grow up thinking they’re not a princess. They better not. I can’t afford that."


Tips for formal dining from Stacey Carpin

Many Americans have a grasp on basic etiquette, but the advanced stages of the social art elude many.

Some finer points of the craft:

Eat soup by dipping your spoon in the center of the bowl and moving it up and away before consuming it, allowing any stray drops to spill into the bowl. Remember the phrase: “Like a ship out to sea, I spoon my soup away from me.”

Dinner rolls should be torn apart, with each piece buttered separately. Hot rolls are an exception, and should be buttered all at once.

The dessert spoon and fork should not be picked up like normal tableware. Instead, grasp each utensil from its resting place simultaneously and slide both down the table to a dining position beside the plate before lifting them.

Women should be seated to the right of men. The reason for this rule is lost to time, but it is a rule nonetheless. Place cards should not be switched, as the host has seated people in a specific order for a reason.

Sugar packets should be placed under the lip of a diner’s plate after use in coffee or tea.

In traditional continental dining, the salad fork is the nearest the plate, to the right of the meat and fish forks respectively. The proper order is alphabetical: fish, meat, salad. American settings with the salad fork to the far left is California-style.

To indicate your impending return, fold your napkin and selt it on your table. Waitstaff will recognize this signal. To indicate the completion of your meal, fold your napkin and place it under the lip of your plate.

To show you will continue a course following a break, cross your knife and fork, tines down, over the plate. To inform servers of the completion of a course, arrange knife and fork in parallel at a diagonal from northeast to southwest.