He was dressed very oddly. In addition to the helmet, he wore a large vest knitted from soft rope, which reached the ground, and under that a short one-piece suit made from old sugar sacks. His feet were wrapped in layers of rough cloth, tied with string. (1.4)
This is our first glimpse of Arthur, and yeah, he is dressed very oddly. He's also wearing a set of wings. We're new to Ratbridge, but we're guessing that this isn't standard attire for kids. We can probably trace this back to how Arthur lives underground with his adoptive caretaker and doesn't interact with the rest of the world much… so why would he care how he looks? Come to think of it, where would he even buy clothes in the first place?
From the way the ladies paraded their derrieres, it seemed that to have an interesting behind was very much the thing! Round ones, cone-shaped ones, pyramidal ones, cuboid ones, and some that defied description. All, large and wobbling like jellies. (12.9)
This is a somewhat frightening vision of what fashion in Ratbridge looks like. We've heard of bustles and Spanx and other ways to enhance one's (ahem) assets, but this seems a little extreme. But if the ladies of Ratbridge are that concerned with their appearances, then we guess it makes sense to go to drastic measures.
"I missed out last week, and they haven't let me in the tearooms since." (13.12)
This is one of the fashionable ladies of Ratbridge complaining about how she missed last week's fashion tip, and suffered the consequences. Now, we all know that inner beauty is what counts, but it seems like these ladies have forgotten that. Completely. All they seem to care about is external appearances and whether they're keeping up with the latest trends.
Madame Froufrou started again. "Could the fashionable ladies here please raise their hands and display the most fashionable quantities of money they can….And please do check that those around you are fashionable!" (13.43)
Madame Froufrou (a.k.a. Snatcher in disguise) seems to have this scam down to an art. Not only does he emphasize that physical appearances and fashion are the most important things ever, but he also gets the ladies to start self-policing. The competitive vibe is pretty strong here, so this must be an effective strategy.
"A woman of grace and virtue! Now, my angel, if you would place your offering in the bucket affixed to our fashion wand and take a numbered ticket, I shall invite you to collect your very precious, new lifestyle accessory from the stage, and lo…You shall be a queen among women!" (13.56)
Okay, let's see if we understand this: Being able to make a monetary contribution to the fashionista's account will get you a fashionable accessory that will somehow make you the most beautiful and sought-after person in Ratbridge? Does altering your external appearance really cause all that to happen? And why is money tied up in this pursuit of beauty? Seems a little fishy to us.
"I'm not sure, but, well, I know it's strange, but I got the same feeling when I was looking at her that I got when the leader of the cheese hunt cornered me. She could have been his twin sister." (13.80)
Arthur's telling Willbury that Madame Froufrou gives him a weird vibe—specifically, a weird vibe that reminds him of Snatcher. We know that Arthur hasn't been exposed to much of the outside world, but it doesn't even seem to occur to him that cross-dressing might be the answer to this mystery.
"Seeing as the boxtrolls and cabbageheads can get on and off the ship, we dress up as boxtrolls. Then the Squeakers won't pay any attention to us." (34.44)
Kipper has a bright idea (for once) relating to disguises. He's noticed that the police don't make any effort to stop the boxtrolls and cabbageheads from running on and off the ship, while the rest of the crew (humans and rats) are being watched for suspicious activity. So why not dress everyone up as boxtrolls, and use the police's prejudice about appearances against them?
Willbury nodded again, and the rabbit women beamed. Then the one in brown gave Kipper a funny look. "You look rather big for a boxtroll." Then she looked down at Tom. "And you look rather small." (36.19)
We've got to hand it to the rabbit women: They're smarter than the Ratbridge police. They look at the humans and rats in boxtroll disguises and think that something might not be right here. Of course, they're willing to believe that these funny-looking boxtrolls are just a different kind of boxtroll, so they're also taken in by the disguises… but hey, nobody's perfect.
"What do you boxtrolls know about human?" Then he paused and eyed up Willbury. "Well, maybe you're a little more human than I thought!" (44.17)
After getting away with fooling the Ratbridge police and the rabbit women, maybe Willbury was starting to think that the boxtroll disguises were perfect. However, Snatcher sees through appearances, and catches on to the fact that they're not actually boxtrolls, but rather humans and rats in disguises. Maybe it's because Snatcher's a master of disguise, or maybe he's just hard to fool.
With no word of thanks, she marched past her fashion rivals, flaunting her nonexistent buttocks, went down the gangplank, and disappeared. (55.54)
Once the fashionable ladies of Ratbridge learn that "Madame Froufrou" has been lying to them all this time, they desperately scramble to correct their appearances to be truly in line with fashion. Luckily for them, they can use the resizing machine to shrink their butts back to a normal size. Phew.