Rewind (like old-school rewind on the VHS) back to the year 2000, sit back, get comfy and I will tell you about the earliest days of my love affair with American Girl!
I had never before heard of American Girl, but two things happened, rather simultaneously, to put American Girl on my radar. First, I was nannying for two of the cutest little girls who each had a single American Girl doll they adored. Getting and having this doll was a BIG deal! At the same time, my sister was pregnant with my first niece, Zoe Faith. As soon as my sister found out she was having a girl, her Mother-In-Law, Von, went out and purchased an American Girl Bitty Baby and just about every Bitty Baby outfit and accessory in existence at the time! Von was an elementary school teacher for many years outside of Chicago- home of the flag ship American Girl store and was well versed in all things American Girl, but was needing a little girl to shop for.
At the time, my sister could not wrap her mind around why anyone would buy a baby an $80 doll (let alone a baby who was still in utero!) For each holiday, more Bitty Baby outfits and accessories would be added to Zoe's growing collection. The adorable pink and blue boxes all sat, stacked and unopened on the top shelf of her closet. By the time Zoe turned 3, my sister said she FINALLY got it! Around the age of 3, is when Zoe's love for doll play really took off. She now had a baby brother and loved being able to care for Bitty Baby like she saw her Mama take care of baby brother. Changing Bitty Baby's clothes was always a highlight, and now she had LOTS of clothes and accessories for anything she could imagine with Bitty Baby.
When Holiday came along in 2010, I had already fallen in love with American Girl and my mom bought Holiday her first Bitty Baby for her first Christmas when she was just 2 months old! I wanted to build her collection through the early years when she didn't really care what she got for birthdays or Christmas. And slowly, I started buying little Bitty Baby outfits and accessories: A heart outfit for Valentine's Day, an Easter dress tucked away in her Easter basket, Christmas jammies in her stocking. So by the time Holiday was 2 and 3, she had her own little American Girl collection started and has LOVED doll play from that day forward. Here are some pictures of her from 6 months to 1 year, already loving on her Bitty Baby!
Over the years, American Girl has become as much of a hobby for me as it is for Holiday. We have now turned one of our spare bedrooms into "The Doll Room," and Pappy constructed a 6 ft tall American Girl doll house for Holiday last year. I'll share pictures later. But first, I wanted to explain why we love this brand so much:
Quality: American Girl Dolls and accessories are made with superior quality. They are expensive, there's no getting around that, but when you hold the dolls and accessories in your hands and compare them to the Target or Walmart versions, you GET why they're more valuable. When my Grandmother was still living, we would all go back to Pennsylvania at least once a year and she often got to see the girls' dolls. Having sewed many clothes herself through the years, she just couldn't get over the quality, workmanship and attention to detail on the little Bitty Baby outfits. One of my last, living memories of her was when we had all the Grandkids Facetime her on Christmas Eve. Holiday was holding her Bitty Baby in a new outfit that was purchased with Christmas money my Grandma had sent for her. Holiday wanted her to see the new outfit and my Grandmother commented how special Bitty Babies are and that they're not like other dolls! I think her love for Bitty Baby has made me love Bitty even more!
The Well Styled Child blog originally started out of my love for boutique children's clothing and I know it's a passion many of my readers share. American Girl is very much like the "boutique brand" of doll clothing! Sure you can find super cute kids clothes at Target, but the quality, workmanship and details aren't the same as your Persnickety or Matilda Jane.
Timeless & Classic: The main reason I love boutique girls' clothing is also one of the main reasons I love American Girl. Denise Marchis, the founder of Matilda Jane Clothing said of her beloved clothing line, "It's all about keeping a little girl...a little girl." This is SO true of American Girl. We live in a society and culture that pressures little girls to grow up as quickly as possible. By the time they're 5 or 6 and entering school, it's time to say goodbye to the "baby shows" in favor of Descendants, High School Musical and the like. It's time to move across the store from the age-appropriate toddler section to the miniature versions of what 20 year old girls are wearing. Dolls are thrown into the yard sale pile while new collections of Monster High Dolls line their dressers. Over the past two years, I've lost count of how many little girls (under age 8) I've seen dressed up as zombie cheerleaders. I'll be honest with you, I can't wrap my brain around that! I've been so intentional about allowing Holiday to enjoy age-appropriate things for as long as possible. At having just turned 6, she has a lot more in common with 4 year old Daniel Tiger than she does with 13 or 18 year old (depending on the season) Carly Shay from the popular Disney show, iCarly. So for us, American Girl fits WAY more into our vision for her play and media influences than what might be popular for other little girls her age. I love timeless toys! I love that American Girl reflects what little girls her age have been playing with for centuries. No need to re-invent the wheel for us!
Investment and Resale Value: Nothing at American Girl is cheap! Not just in terms of quality, but also in pricing! However, just like boutique children's clothing, American Girl products that are taken care of, retain their value over time. I know a lot of moms don't want to commit to the price of American Girl without knowing that their child will love it, so they start with Our Generation (Target), Journey Dolls (ToysRUs) or MyLife (Walmart). If your budget is very limited and it's what you can afford, by all means, provide your child this wholesome play opportunity however you are able! However, if your budget does allow some splurges in this area- I think that less, well-chosen, high quality items will produce more quality play time. At the end of the day, if you splurge on American Girl and your child rarely touches it, you can easily resale it on the many American Girl BST boards! For items that are in excellent condition, you can expect to get at least 75% of your initial investment back and even more for retired items (American Girl retires items constantly which lends itself to a strong resale market). There are a select few Our Generation items that I've found to be okay in quality, but for the most I prefer the American Girl brand. I'll also share tips at the end for getting the best deals at American Girl.
Historical and Educational Value: I'll break down the different American Girl Doll lines below, but my favorite line from American Girl (and what truly attracted me to the brand to begin with) is their line of historical dolls, currently referred to as the BeForever line. Holiday loved her Bitty Baby and Bitty Twins but started to get interested in the larger, 18 inch dolls right around her 4th birthday. This was mostly fueled by trips to our local American Girl store and also because she fell in love with the Samantha movie- which is a very well-done movie based on Samantha Parkington, an American Girl character from the Edwardian Era (1890's-1910). While the BeForever characters are fictional, the history and details surrounding their collections and stories are right out of your American History book! This connection to the American past is one of the most endearing and enduring qualities of American Girl and its legacy. I'll talk more about the BeForever line below.
Open-Ended Play Value: When deciding what toys to bring into our home, choosing toys that are open-ended in their play value has always been at the top of my priority list. Toys that are open-ended are toys that can be played with in a different way every time you pick them up. There are countless ways for your imagination to use them and pretend with them. This isn't only a nice concept, it's important developmental work for children. Providing open-ended toys enables you to capitalize on your children's play time-- it's doing so much more than merely keeping them busy and occupied. Plato once said that you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. Doll play is extremely open-ended. Anything that can happen in a child's real life can be re-created with dolls. Most anything you purchase from American Girl can really lend itself to open-ended play. However, when I'm choosing which doll items to purchase, I still gage how "open" a toy is. For example, Target released an adorable Ice Cream Truck in their Our Generation Doll line early in 2016. I rushed out and bought it right away. It is cute and it is a good value for the money considering the amount of accessories that come with it. However, over time, I've realized this toy is extremely limited in its play value. For starters, all of the (mostly hand-held) ice cream/ popsicles/ sno-cones that come with it are super cute and well made, but it's nearly impossible to get those items to balance in the dolls' hand. Also, it's hard to think of ways to play with this toy outside of the dolls lining up for their ice cream. Contrast this with Maryellen's Diner from American Girl. Where dolls can sit at the counter, in the booth or "dance" over by the jukebox. Girls can easily get behind the diner and interactively cook and serve. The food items are all things that sit on the trays/ plates/ counter. The Diner is a truly open-ended toy whereas the ice cream truck is quite limited. It's also difficult to stand a doll in the ice cream truck and once you do-- it's very difficult for anyone to move anything around from inside the truck. Consequently, the ice cream truck is rarely played with, but the diner is played with constantly.
Navigating American Girl Doll Lines
Bitty Baby is a 15 inch doll line from American Girl that represents infants. Their outfits and accessories represent a baby from newborn through 1 year-ish. They have hard heads, legs and arms but their bodies are soft. There are lots of accessories, big and small. From cribs and car seats to changing table and Bitty Check-Up sets. Bitty Baby was Holiday's first American Girl doll that she fell in love with and is still a huge favorite. Around 4, she became very interested in the 18" dolls and Bitty sat for a big, but now at 6, Bitty Baby gets LOTS of regular love and attention! She even has several Bitty baby items on her Christmas list this year. Bitty Baby is a great first doll for any little one! They currently run right around $60 and you get to select which onesie to bring your Bitty Baby home in. There are a variety of skin/hair/eye color options for your baby. You can check them all out here.
The Bitty Twins line are also 15" dolls with hard heads, legs, arms and soft bodies. Bitty Twins have a little hair (long enough for pig tails) and their line represents the toddler years. Bitty Twins have recently been phased out in lieu of the new Wellie Wisher line. We LOVE Bitty Twins (Holiday has a set of blonde and brunette girl twins) and are sad to see their line go. Bitty Twins also have boy options which are nice if you want a little brother or have a little guy who would love a doll of his own! You can still buy the Bitty Twins dolls here on the American Girl website. If you click on the gender set dolls you want, you can customize hair/skin/eye color for each of your twins. Unfortunately, all of their outfits and accessories have been retired. However, Bitty Twins and Bitty Baby clothes are completely interchangeable (since they are both 15 inch dolls) so you can still buy Bitty Baby items for Bitty Twins.
Wellie Wishers are a brand new line for American Girl that released at the beginning of summer 2016. They are a 12 inch doll with completely hard bodies. So all of the Wellie Wishers dolls, clothes and accessories are exclusive to their line and will not fit the bigger dolls. These dolls are strategically marketed to girls in the 3-7 year old age group and American Girl has done an excellent job of creating a line that really resonates with this age demographic. Wellie Wishers are also less expensive than the 18" dolls coming in at $60/ doll. With having so much first-hand experience with American Girl, my take on Wellie Wishers is this: they have beautiful faces and are very well-received by their target demographic. However, I have been disappointed with their wig quality and I don't feel like their clothing is quite on par with any of the other clothing/doll lines from American Girl. The outfits they come with are cute enough, but the extra outfits available for purchase are lacking, in my opinion. That being said, Holiday LOVES them and plays with them constantly. They make excellent little sisters to the 18" dolls. Bitty Baby and Twins frequented the little sister role before Wellie Wishers came along, however, the scale of Bitty to the 18" dolls really isn't a very good fit. Any time we travel, Holiday always wants to take one of her AG dolls along and I've realized that Wellie Wishers are much easier to travel with than a regular 18" doll. They are smaller, more compact and lightweight. Plus, I don't mind the fact that we're toting around a less expensive doll when there's always a chance of the doll or her many accessories getting left behind somewhere.
BeForever, as mentioned above, is American Girl's original line of historical dolls. This is the line that began that great empire so many of us love today. The originator and founder of American Girl, Pleasant Rowland, had the idea for Pleasant Company (original name) after visiting Colonial Williamsburg. She came away from that trip wanting to publish a series of children's book that taught history while inspiring girls through the lives of their heroines. She simultaneously wanted to launch a doll company with beautiful, detailed dolls and accessories so girls could re-enact those stories. From that dream, the three first dolls were released, Samantha, Kirsten and Molly. From there the dream has grown and expanded into a multi-faceted brand.
The BeForever dolls are an 18" doll, each representing a different era of American history. While the characters are fictional, there is great effort placed into making the stories, dolls and their accessories as true to their place in history as possible. As mentioned earlier, this is the line of dolls that made me fall in love with American Girl. I love the connection to the past and the valuable lessons girls can learn from history. In an article by Michele Willdgen, she says of the historical collection, "The story themes and subjects, the historical moment and the doll's accessories all aim to create a character who embodies an iconic time in American history. The goal is a girl who is accurate and alluring at once, familiar enough that a child identifies with her and enticingly different, so that a child wants to learn more."
As a Homeschool Mom, I've really seen the benefit of the BeForever stories. When we were studying the early American colonies, we pulled out the Felicity movie. While discussing the role of the Native Americans and how they were living in America prior to the colonists, we talked about Kaya's story. The BeForever line makes history come alive. It takes history from the textbook to girls' bedrooms and playrooms and into her heart in a way that reading alone cannot achieve.
While several BeForever dolls have been retired over the years, these are the dolls currently available for purchase:
Kaya, 1764 Pre-American Colonization
Josefina Montoya, 1824- New Mexico, Post Spanish Independence
Addy Walker, 1864- Civil War Era
Samantha Parkington, 1904- Edwardian Era
Rebecca Rubin, 1914- early 1900's, daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants
Kit Kitteridge, 1934- Depression Era
Maryellen Larkin, 1954- Fabulous Fifties
Melody Ellison, 1964- Civil Rights Era
Julie Albright, 1974, 1970's Era
Girl of the Year
The girl of the year is an exclusive doll released on January 1st of each year and only available for that given year. GOTY are modern American Girls with a variety of present-day stories. The GOTY collection generally includes a series of books, several outfits and both large and small accessories and/or furniture pieces. The current doll of the year is Lea Clark- a 10 year old girl from St. Louis, Missouri who goes on a wild adventure in the Brazilian rainforest. You can view Lea Clark and her line here. Lea Clark and her line will all be retired on December 31, 2016 or until her items sell out through the Christmas shopping season.
How To Save on American Girl
2. Request a catalog here: There are often print coupons included
3. Sign up for AG Rewards: This is a new system that just launched in Summer 2016. For every $200 dollars spent at American Girl, you can get $10 in rewards, awarded each month- up to $50 on any given month.
4. Shop American Girl Costco: Costco often has AG gift cards ($100 worth of gift cards for $80). This is a smart way to shop as it is essentially saving you 20%. Even better if there's a sale and you can use your gift cards for additional savings.
Costco also has several American Girl dolls and products at a discount. Currently at time of writing this (November, 2016), there is a Samantha Holiday set with her winter coat and Christmas dress. There is also a Bitty Baby with several outfits and accessories. In addition to small pets (cats, dogs), a large horse and several books and craft sets.
5. Watch for Sales. Check in on the website often or follow some of the American Girl BST boards on Facebook-- all good ways to stay in the know on sales. Last year, I purchased gift cards at Costco and used them during a 20% off total purchase sale before Christmas- the equivalent of 40% off total purchase.
6. Buy Second-Hand. Between Ebay and B/S/T boards, there is a vibrant resale market for American Girl products. I also know lots of people who have stumbled upon great deals at their local Goodwills and places like that. In addition, I check my local Craigslist every week or so to see what new AG products have been added! You never know where you might stumble across a great deal! You may run into dolls who need a little TLC. Thankfully, there are loads of Youtube videos and blogs out there on how to refresh dolls. You can also send dolls to the American Girl Doll Hospital for just about anything. The price list is online so you can determine if it's worth it to have the doll fixed or just replaced.
MY TOP AMERICAN GIRL PICKS
DOLLS: Which dolls you purchase are obviously based on your child's preference. Even with an ever-growing collection of 18" dolls, Holiday still plays with her Bitty Babies very regularly. Bitty Baby is a great doll for all girls to have, in my opinion. My niece, Emme, is 8. She has several 18" American Girl dolls, but recently received her first Bitty Baby and is in love!
My personal favorite dolls are Maryellen, Samantha and Kit. Maryellen Larkin is a 1950's era doll. She and her collection always remind me of my grandmothers and the decade my parents were born in. Kit Kittredge is the depression era doll. She also reminds me of the many stories my grandmothers told me about their own childhoods-- stories that I love to pass onto Holiday as we play with Kit and her furniture/ accessories. Samantha Parkington is the quintessential American Girl Doll. She has the largest collection of any of the dolls and just represents a time period of all of my favorite L.M. Montgomery, Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott heroines.
ACCESSORIES: I personally think it's smarter to build an American Girl Doll collection by actually buying clothing and accessories for your doll rather than only buying additional dolls. The dolls' play value is more limited when you don't have anything to go with them or seasonal outfits to change them into. Buying more dolls with nothing to go with them isn't going to increase play value or play time-- it's just going to be another doll lined up on the dresser.
DOLL CLOTHES: Because Holiday does have a lot of doll outfits, I see every little girl's eyes light up in the doll room. Changing their clothes is the number one way all the girls love to play when they come to our house. Even all of Holiday's high school babysitters are in heaven when they get to "play" in the doll room! Again, I abide by the rule that fewer quality items is better than just having a lot of cheaper stuff. I know some people have a hard time getting over the cost of the American Girl Doll outfits, however, from a collector's standpoint, the outfits are often much more valuable than the dolls. I have purchased several Our Generation outfits just because they were cute and inexpensive, however I've had issues with every last one. They just aren't cut for American Girl dolls. I'm sure there are some that work just fine, but I've found myself having to cut the sleeves of the jacket to work or the boots being unusable because they won't fit on an AG doll foot. You also have to be careful with some of the cheaper doll clothes which can stain and bleed onto the doll's "skin" and bodies. I have just quit buying anything other than American Girl brand for doll clothing. Watch for sales and stock up when they have them!
One disclaimer- some of the American Girl outfits are made with delicate silk and lace-- they are gorgeous and period correct. However, the Velcro on nearly every clothing piece is the enemy!
FURNITURE AND LARGER ACCESSORIES: If you're in the market for a larger accessory, I would suggest buying a doll bed first. This is a main way all little girls love to play with their dolls. All of the AG doll beds are gorgeous (Samantha's and Kit's are my favorites!) Kit's retired bed is actually my preference over the newer model. I purchased a brand new, retired Kit bed on Amazon for around the same cost as the current Kit bed.
Another favorite large accessory is Maryellen's Diner. It is pricey, but the play value on this piece (as discussed above) is SO open-ended. For other accessories, consider buying around what your daughter is really into. Holiday rides English Horseback-- consequently, we have the stable and two AG horses that are played with daily in our home. I actually purchased the Our Generation stable a few years back. It is pink and adorable! However, in order for the big horses to fit, we have to use the corral. The quality of the Our Generation corral is terrible, it constantly pops off (though the horse barn itself is well made). Consequently, we have combined the corral from the AG set to the front of the OG horse barn. It works for our play and looks cute, it's just another example of why I prefer to buy American Girl brand over the less expensive options which are lacking in quality.
Over the past few years, we've collected the accessory/ furniture sets for the activities/ lessons Holiday participates in on a weekly basis. In addition to horseback riding, we have an American Girl piano, gymnastics set and ballet set. Often in the afternoons, the dolls are all dressed and set up at their various lessons!
Any of the school sets also make great open-ended accessories. Maryellen has a school set that you can see here. It features an easel with chalkboard, map, pointer and flashcards. Nearly all of the BeForever Dolls have a school outfit and accessories. The TrulyMe collection has several school sets and accessories as well! If you're a collector like me, I have tracked down retired Samantha school desks (2) for Holiday for Christmas. In general, my rule of thumb is to always buy accessories that are open-ended, that can be played with in a variety of ways.
A new item this season for American Girl is the Gourmet Kitchen Set! Another amazing, open-ended toy. We actually already owned Kit's retired Cookstove, but we added the new refrigerator recently added to Maryellen's collection. The refrigerator is darling with tons of nostalgic flare and amazing food accessories! (Note: the quality of the included TV trays is subpar in my opinion, but don't let that detract you from the main attraction which is certainly the fridge!)
For the Bitty Baby collection, the Doll Cradle and Changing Table are absolutely gorgeous, wooden, heirloom quality pieces. I'm a big fan of retired Bitty Baby clothing items and have found quite a few on eBay. I love American Girl Wiki- you can research all retired items so you know exactly what you want to look for on eBay. I have been fortunate to find all of the ones I've looked for-- generally all under the $40 range. Bitty Babies, through 2010, came with Bitty Bear which is an adorable accessory. The older Bitty Baby clothing sets almost always came with a toy for Bitty Baby and accessories for Bitty Bear as well-- so you can really get a lot of value for the money with the retired sets! This is an example of a retired Bitty Baby Halloween set we have-- look at all the great extras that came with it!
WELLIE WISHERS: As stated above, I'm not as crazy about the quality of the Wellie Wishers collection. It is very common for Bitty Baby and Bitty Twin items to be made out of plastic. However, they are generally a very heavy duty plastic, but with Wellie Wishers being smaller, their accessories aren't as heavy duty, in my opinion. A friend was just telling me her daughter received the WW table and chair set and it constantly tips over. It's just not ideal for a doll line geared towards younger girls. That being said, I am highly impressed with the Wellie Wishers Playhouse. We have seen and played with it many times in the store and I did purchase it for Christmas.
PETS: The American Girl pets are also totally adorable and all of the little girls in our family seem to love them!
OUR DOLL ROOM
I will share some pictures of our Doll Room. Many of you know of my love for decorating-- this room is NOT decorated (yet) but it is organized well!
This is the dollhouse my dad lovingly built for Holiday last year (with lots of help from Mimi too!) Although he added a ton of custom details, he used the Ana White Dollhouse plans that you can find here. The estimated cost to build, according to the site is $100, however, we found it to be more in the $200-300 range, depending on the quality of materials used.
This is our wardrobe for historical dolls and the TrulyMe clothes as well. It's hard to tell from this picture, but I use these wooden hangers I purchase here. The bookcase is from Target (find it here) and it's a piece I already had, otherwise I would've bought the taller version. More storage can never hurt for accessories or items not played with as often. In order to hang the clothes- I used small, thin tension rods from Home Depot, though I think this one could work well. You just need to get one that is at least the width of the interior of the bookcase, so double check your measurements if you plan to order. Also, I felt like the weight of the clothes on the tension rod would be a constant issue, making it fall, so I secured both ends of the tension rod (attaching to the bottom of the shelf over each rod) with these cup hooks.
All of the beautiful hats on the top shelf are from the BeForever line. I have them displayed on top of table card holders I found at Michaels. They are metal, heavy and weighted. They do tip over sometimes with there's a lot of play going on, but I love how they look displayed on the wardrobe.
Inside the closet of the doll room, we have all things Bitty Baby-- we call it the Nursery!
I hope you enjoyed our little tour. I will do an updated post once I decorate the Doll Room as well as the Doll House itself!
Feel free to ask any American Girl questions (please don't ask for coupon codes) below and I will do my best to answer all of your questions! Also be sure to visit us on Facebook!