Follow TV Tropes


Princess for a Day

Go To
One night of grace and charm in a life of toil and chore.

This is whenever a low- to middle-class girl gets to put on some fancy clothes and pretends to be a member of the upper class for a short time — maybe even a princess. Often it's to go to a royal ball, but it could be for different reasons.

It could be part of The Con, or because she's been telling a loved one or rival living somewhere else that she is part of the upper class, and must now Maintain the Lie. If it's the latter, expect the deception to be exposed, and An Aesop about honesty and being yourself. Other times, it's just that girl showing up and having a good time.

In many of these plots, one other person happens to know the true identity of this unfamiliar lady, but can't expose it without bringing down scandal upon himself.

Despite the title, this happens with guys as well.

Often involves She Cleans Up Nicely and Pimped-Out Dress. Also a key component of a Prince and Pauper plot.

A Sub-Trope of Penny Among Diamonds. Compare Mock Millionaire.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Makoto from El-Hazard: The Magnificent World is forced to replace the kidnapped Princess Fatoria until such a time that she can be found and rescued. Makoto, a guy, isn't fond of this idea.
  • It's not a party, but at one point in Fruits Basket, Tohru is invited to take a vacation at a Sohma family-owned hot spring resort as a White Day gift. Lampshaded when a blown-over Tohru says that she feels like a princess, since she isn't used to such luxuries.
  • In a Naruto filler, Ino is tasked with filling in for a princess, who's ashamed of her weight (after stress-eating) but has to meet her fiance for the first time before the wedding. (Ino is specifically chosen because she looks like the princess.) Little does she know that her fiance is actually a Chubby Chaser. Naruto uses his Sexy Jutsu and gets in on the act, too.
  • Pok√©mon the Series: Diamond and Pearl: Dawn in "Dawn of a Royal Day". She swaps places with Princess Salvia so the latter can participate in a Pokémon Contest. Salvia enjoys herself, Dawn doesn't. She gets a Togekiss out of the deal, though.
  • Sailor Moon:
    • The girls do this when they go to the princess finishing school for one episode of the first anime. Ami and Makoto pass, Rei, Minako and Usagi do NOT. Since the whole princess school gig was a trap from the enemy to capture Sailor Moon/Princess Serenity (which involved brainwashing an English noblewoman who lived in Japan so she'd become The Mole), this means the three rejected girls avert capture by the Monster of the Week and completely trash the plan.
    • In both the first anime and the manga, Sailor Moon investigates a party being held in honor of Princess D, since she's in possession of a very rare jewel that may be the Sivler Crystal. She uses her magic pen to morph into a princess, and has her fun until the enemy attacks. She also gets a dance and a kiss with Tuxedo Mask (although she doesn't seem to remember the latter, seeing as she was drunk and sleepy at the time).
    • Sorta happens in the S anime, when a rich old man who's a friend of Mamoru invites him and the Inner Senshi to a very posh party in his Big Fancy House. Haruka and Michiru also attend the ball since they're stated to play the piano and the violin there, respectively. Then Usagi is so nervous that she takes a chug of liquor thinking it's normal juice, and hilarity ensues.
  • Nozomi, Miyuki and Mofurun all become Cinderella for an episode of their respective Pretty Cure show. However, Miyuki and her team actually transform into princesses since episode 23 onwards.
    • Inverted with Miyuki's teammate Reika. The most feminine of the five becomes the prince.

    Comic Books 
  • In an early Batman story (almost certainly inspired by the Lady for a Day movie), Batman persuades all of Gotham City to play along with a charade to allow a small-town girl to convince her parents that she is a successful actress.
  • Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, No Future For You.
  • DC issue #28 of The Powerpuff Girls was titled "Princess For A Day," but was instead a dialogue-less story of Princess Morbucks at Pokey Oaks Kindergarten being upstaged at every turn by the Powerpuffs.

    Fairy Tales 
  • "Cinderella": After several years of performing drudge work for her step-family (her father having died in the meantime), Cinderella encounters a Fairy Godmother that dresses her up and provides a Coach, just so Cinderella could attend a costume ball that night. Of course, by doing so, she catches the eye of the King's son and ends up the real thing.
  • Cap o' Rushes, having been thrown out by her father for saying she loved him like she loved salt, went for such a job.

    Films — Animated 
  • The titular character in Aladdin uses his first wish from the Genie to become a Prince, called Prince Ali. He does learn the lesson about being himself.
  • Tiana in The Princess and the Frog, accidentally, which leads to the film's big twist. Also Charlotte, who is technically the princess of Mardi Gras for its duration, as Mama Odie's spell specifies.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Vanellope Von Schweetz crosses the finish line and resets her game Sugar Rush, which returns her to her proper place — princess of the game. But her tenure is short-lived as she gives it up for her regular clothes and position of President.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The "glass slipper" of Ever After belongs to a Fallen Princess who pretended to be a courtier to save a man's life.
  • Heart of Darkness (1958) uses this for a rather cruel Reveal involving a character known as "The Queen" who turns out to be a random member of the antagonist's harem, who has been supplied with royal trappings in order to manipulate the hero. When she fails, she is considered expendable.
  • Frank Capra's 1933 film Lady for a Day, based on the short story "Madame La Gimp" by Damon Runyon, is the trope namer. He remade it as A Pocketful of Miracles in 1961 with Bette Davis as the lady for a day.

  • In the Damon Runyon short story "Madame La Gimp" (the basis for the film Lady for a Day), a woman called "Apple Annie" has been telling her daughter in Spain that she is a New York socialite. When the daughter arrives with her fiancé, the son of a Spanish count, a mobster who considers her apples good luck helps Annie maintain the charade to avoid humiliating her daughter and ruining the engagement.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 novel Scourge the Heretic, the low-born, religious fanatic assassin Keira has to pretend to be an intellectual, free-thinking noblewoman in order to infiltrate a high-society Chaos cult. She pulls it off remarkably well.
  • Fanny Price of Mansfield Park, who has been The Unfavorite in her uncle's house her entire life, finally gets her coming-out ball (the second ball she's ever attended in her life) where she is treated with the respect and attention due a lady.
  • Meg in Little Women gets this treatment in the chapter "Vanity Fair", and attends a high-class party held by a rich friend of hers... only to be humbled by ladies whispering behind her back about her and her family's poverty and Laurie calling her out on being shallow. That and those dancing slippers really hurt.
  • Forest Kingdom: The Hawk & Fisher spinoff series' book 4 (Wolf in the Fold) sees the main characters (who would later canonically be revealed as actual royalty) going undercover as minor nobility to catch a spy who's stolen extremely sensitive information.
  • In Catherine, The Great Journey of The Royal Diaries she has nothing nice enough to wear to the royal court until the king lets her borrow a gown belonging to the king's sister. When she has to return it it reminds her of the story about the little ash girl who was beautiful until the stroke of midnight.
  • Vin does this several times in Mistborn, impersonating a noblewoman in order to gather information about what the nobles are planning and to try and pit different noble houses against each other.
  • There are a few times when Anne Shirley dresses up and goes on outings into town. One memorable occasion has her attend a charity event where she and a number of other people recite monologues. While she initially feels miserable, plain, and nervous amongst the famous people who are clearly much higher-class and wearing more expensive clothes than her, she impresses everyone with her monologue, is invited to meet and mingle with said higher-class guests, and later learns that a skilled painter had admired her hair.
  • Emberella in Witches Abroad really is a princess (well, daughter of the ruler of the city at least - technically he was a baron), but she's not the one who goes to the ball; Magrat Garlick is.
  • In Why Polly?, Polly, a mere flower girl, gets to dress up as the princess and spend the night in the palace. It would be a lot more fun if she hadn't been kidnapped...

    Live-Action TV 
  • Firefly's episode "Shindig":
    • Kaylee was an example of "just that girl showing up and having a good time"; she enjoyed herself tremendously except for one run-in with the Alpha Bitch (who got put in her place anyway). She wore a fancy dress but never pretended to be anything she wasn't, and this made her the most popular young woman there. All the young men (and a fair number of the not-so-young men) at the party were fascinated by a pretty woman who knew more about engines than they did.
    • Mal was partly a Prince for a Day. At first, he was at the event only because he was interested in getting their job done and he needed to make a contact there, but then when he saw Inara, he decided to join in and have some fun, dancing with her.
  • In an episode of Full House, the Tanners vacation in Disneyland and, while visiting an attraction based around the genie's lamp from Aladdin, Michelle winds up winning the position of the amusement park's "Princess of the Day" and is rewarded three wishes — all while simultaneously domineering her sisters around and eventually learning her lesson about it.
  • Occurred in Gilmore Girls when Emily wanted to show off her perfect granddaughter Rory.
    • Emily wanted Rory to attend a debutante ball. This was sort of a sore point for Lorelai, who didn't want Rory to have the same silver spoon upbringing that she did.
    • In Rory's freshman year at college, her grandmother wanted to make her into a princess to introduce Rory to Emily's friends' sons. She even wore a tiara for the occasion. She was hugely embarrassed when she realized that she's the only woman among a bunch of men.
  • In Merlin (2008), Gwen impersonated Morgana in one season 2 ep, after she and Morgana were captured by bandits. Morgana escaped and the henchman taking Gwen back begged her to impersonate Morgana for fear that the leader, Hengist, would kill him if he didn't bring back Morgana.
  • A 1950s TV game show was Queen for a Day.
  • To an extent, Liz in the 30 Rock episode "Black Tie". She got her fancy dress for the evening from the wardrobe department of the Show Within a Show.

  • In Die Fledermaus, the Eisensteins' lady's maid Adele puts on a fancy dress to attend the Prince's ball. When "Marquis Renard" (Eisenstein in disguise) calls her a lady's maid, the ensemble laughs at the suggestion and she replies with a song asserting her obvious high breeding.
  • In the Mrs. Hawking play series, Mary in Mrs. Hawking when they go undercover at Lord Brockton's ball. They dress Mary in a more beautiful gown than she's ever worn before and pass her off as a fine lady in order for her to act as a diversion.
  • In Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw and the musical adaptation My Fair Lady, working-class Eliza Doolittle gets to attend an embassy ball as a lady. The one person who suspects her ends up entirely convinced that she's the genuine article. Unlike many versions, this one puts a lot of emphasis on the large amount of speech and etiquette training required to pull off the deception convincingly, and also the question of whether, after an experience like that, one can just go on with one's life as if nothing had happened.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 2nd edition Dungeons & Dragons had the spell "Kiss of Sharess" which could have this effect.

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Quest III, after returning the stolen crown, the king willingly steps down and declares you king in his place. The former king is more than happy to step down so he can have fun gambling at the monster pit, but you have far more important things to do like saving the world. Fortunately, the former king understands this and is willing to retake his throne... though every time you save there, he will again offer you the opportunity to become king again in his stead.
  • In Infinite Space, in order to get somebody from the LMC who is willing to hear about Lugovalos threat, Nia disguises herself as a representative from Lanco Warship Manufacturing (using the dress that Yuri bought for her) to attend the conference at Zefiro. And a few hours later into the game, we learn that she was a princess...

    Web Comics 
  • Scandinavia and the World; in the strip "Australian Princess," Sister Australia is sad because she wants to go to the royal ball, but she can't since Australia doesn't have a monarchy. Denmark makes her an honorary Danish princess so she can go, and the two happily enjoy each other's company for the night.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Spike needs to handle Twilight's princess duties for a day after she passes out at a royal summit. This doesn't go too well.
  • In one episode of Noddy Toyland Detective, Queen Sparklewings helps Cloppycorn the Naughticorn pretend to be the King of Toyland after seeing how sad he is from being bossed about by Hoof and Bling.
  • Whopper did this in an episode of Pound Puppies (1980s).
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Katara does this (with Toph's help) to infiltrate the Earth King's palace. Aang and Sokka try it, but it didn't work out as well for them.
  • Smurfette in The Smurfs (1981) was made queen for a day by her fellow Smurfs in one episode as a way to celebrate her birthday. The problem was that Father Time fell asleep while fishing, so he forgot to end the day, resulting in Endless Daytime.
  • In an episode of Top Cat, the gang rally round to convince Benny the Ball's mother that he's Mayor of New York, just like he said in his letters home.

    Real Life 
  • Ladies' Day at the Ascot race meeting, to an extent. Guests were reminded in 2009 that they were required to wear underwear.
  • Much of the wedding industry is built on this trope, as is the idea that the bride is a princess or queen for her wedding day.
  • Princess Caraboo, actually an Englishwoman named Mary Baker, successfully pretended for some time to be a princess from an exotic country.
  • In Studentenverbindungen, which have pretty steep hierarchies as far as clubs go, the most junior class of fraternity students are known as Füchse (Foxes) and are generally relegated to menial tasks like operating the bar. During the Fuchsenkneipe celebration however, the seniority of all fraternity members is reversed for one evening, and the Füchse get to call all the shots (with the youngest Fuchs becoming the master of ceremonies). This is done not to Pet the Dog so much as to teach the runts a lesson about The Chains of Commanding.
  • The medieval Christian tradition of the Feast of Fools included a choirboy being appointed bishop for a day, with all the rights of that rank, on Holy Innocents' Day (28th December). This was sometimes part of a more elaborate ritual in which, over the week between Christmas and January 1st, there would also be a Vicar Bishop, a Deacon Bishop, and a Sub-Deacon Bishop. By the Early Modern period this sort of thing was seen as somewhat blasphemous, especially given that some of the lower clergy were said to have abused their temporary position. However, in some places the Boy Bishop specifically escaped most of the accusations to survive as a purely ceremonial tradition, because Children Are Innocent.

Alternative title: Prince For A Day