Two Millennial Women Chat About Their American Girl Dolls
Expensive dolls: worth it?
By Liz Niemer & Grace Flinsch
LIZ: Hi Grace! We’re both quote-unquote “Millennial women,” and as such have a lot of nostalgia for the early aughts. Specifically American Girl dolls.
GRACE: Hi Liz! Well, my American Girl experiences are a touch more ‘90s centered but same difference. So first of all for anyone who is not familiar with the franchise, these dolls were expensive.
LIZ: Very! I know they retail for $110 today. I think when I got mine (when I was nine) they were about the same? Definitely at least $80, probably closer to $100.
GRACE: I remember one of my dolls being $82 with the hardcover book. I think that was in 1996 or so, when I saved up for Samantha.
LIZ: I also had Samantha!! She was a gift from my grandparents for my 10th birthday.
GRACE: Oh awesome! Samantha’s a boss.
But anyway you saved up your allowance as a kid for… how long?
GRACE: So my first two dolls were gifts from my grandmother, but I saved up for Samantha on a dollar-a-week allowance so that would have been about a year and a half.
My mom was very big on saving up for things, which is great! But also as a small child I didn’t really know what else I would have done with disposable income? So it just felt normal to save for a long time.
LIZ: Did you feel any differently towards Samantha since you saved up your own allowance to get her?
GRACE: I think so. Felicity, my first doll, is closest to my heart—but I put a lot of energy into my Samantha doll and focused a lot on her when hanging out with my dolls once I had her.
Most of the accessories and outfits and things that I bought or asked for as gifts, once I had Samantha, were Samantha items. I felt a lot of ownership there and like I created the experience of having her in a different sort of way. Whereas Felicity more sort of arrived in my life.
LIZ: Also Samantha had the glitziest accessories by far. That BED.
GRACE: I had it. So glitzy!
LIZ: My only sibling is my brother who was not into dolls at all, but I know you have sisters. Did any of them ever save their allowance for American Girl dolls? Did they ever demand that you share Samantha?
GRACE: So my sister had dolls as well but wasn’t old enough for an allowance. We shared our dolls’ stuff a lot, but we pretty much played with our own dolls. So outfits and accessories got swapped a lot.
Our relatives got us American Girl things for birthdays and Christmas because my parents figured out that American Girl dolls were about the only thing we would play with together.
LIZ: Now I’m imagining Josefina wearing Samantha’s birthday party dress.
GRACE: Oh, completely.
LIZ: Which is not like, wrong, in any way, but definitely a different picture.
GRACE: Kirsten chilling on Felicity’s bed in Molly’s luau outfit.
LIZ: OMG AMAZING.
My mom thought the AG accessories were outrageously overpriced so she made a lot of doll clothes for my Samantha. I knew enough to know that they weren’t the exact ones from the catalog, but they were pretty decent copies.
GRACE: Oh they were totally overpriced! I made a few outfits for my dolls when I was learning to sew, but it’s hard to sew tiny things with kid dexterity.
LIZ: Yeah, they’re reallllly tiny. I think the most impressive thing my mom did was make matching dresses for my AG dolls based on dresses I already had.
GRACE: WOW. That’s fantastic.
LIZ: I remember this one red velour dress that I had from Target that she copied really well. It was my favorite.
GRACE: Of course it was velour.
LIZ: Right??? Of course.
LIZ: But yeah, my mom is all about being thrifty. The other way I got quote-unquote “real” American Girl merch was the warehouse sale in WI, back when Pleasant Company used to be based there.
GRACE: If we had been in the Midwest at the time we would have been all over that.
LIZ: Yeah it, was great. That’s where I got my “Just Like Me” doll. Which now they seem to be called “Truly Me?”
My mom and I had this deal where if something was “on sale” she would pay for it, but anything full price had to come out of my allowance. It’s turned me into a hardcore bargain hunter.
GRACE: That’s a great system. Like, okay, you want that full price thing? It’d better really be worth it.
LIZ: Yeah. Though now I can hardly ever bring myself to buy anything for full price. Groceries. That’s about it.
GRACE: Hah same. Bargains 5ever.
LIZ: Do you think your parents were trying to teach you a lesson about saving money?
GRACE: I mean, I think every parent hopes their kids will learn about the importance of saving and delayed gratification, and that definitely came through for me.
I also remember learning how credit cards worked, when I sat with my mom as she placed an order over the phone! She told me that with the card, the company could instantly get the money, and we’d pay them back. My mom presented it as much more of a money transfer tool than a borrowing tool. Definitely my first encounter with that sort of thing.
LIZ: Oh, that is fascinating. I don’t think I ever saw my parents give a credit card number over the phone. We got pizza delivery like twice in my life and paid cash.
GRACE: It was before online shopping and my mom didn’t like the idea of mailing a form or something? I don’t remember exactly but I do remember catalog orders being placed over the phone instead of by mail.
Do you think your American Girl dolls shaped your experiences of money as a kid?
LIZ: I think I definitely learned about branding from my American Girl doll experiences. The fact that other “non-AG” clothes and accessories fit Samantha and my Just Like Me doll just fine—and were a lot cheaper—was not unnoticed. Like, the fact that they were tangible clothes and I could compare them side-by-side really helped that point sink in.
GRACE: Oooh definitely.
LIZ: I think if I were to compare myself to an American Girl’s budget habits I would definitely be a Molly. She knew the value of thrift and saving and “upcycling.” Do what you can with war rations and whatnot.
GRACE: I feel like I should pick something else for variety, but Molly’s outlook rings true for me too.
LIZ: I feel like the American Girls were either Very Poor or Very Rich. Molly’s really the only one in the middle.
LIZ: Like, Kirsten and Addy were clearly just scraping by, and Samantha and Josefina and Felicity were fancy.
GRACE: Yup. Kit was a temporarily inconvenienced fancy person and that’s the newest doll we had.
LIZ: Oh yeah, I forgot about Kit.
Did Samantha ever learn any lessons about money? I know she learned lessons about friendship and sharing, but I don’t think any of them were straight-up about money.
GRACE: Yeah, Samantha seemed like she was building some class consciousness but I don’t remember if she understood money enough to make the connection.
LIZ: I think she just knew that she was much better off than Nellie or Jessie or the other various servants in the house. She had enough consciousness to feel that those class differences were unfair, but didn’t ever campaign to Grandmary to pay Jessie more or anything like that. Also I had totally forgotten about the “working mother’s rights” subplot in Meet Samantha.
GRACE: Oh man, me too!
LIZ: It is funny that in Meet Samantha Sam essentially gives Nellie the equivalent of an American Girl doll.
GRACE: She totally does.
LIZ: And Grandmary takes it in stride and says how generous she is.
GRACE: Grandmary was super chill, all things considered.
LIZ: Grandmary and Emily Gilmore would get along I think.
Anyway as much as I loved Samantha the character I never would have dreamed of giving away either of my AG dolls. Even now they’re the one childhood item that I’ve specifically requested that my mom not give away.
GRACE: Never! All my family’s AG stuff is at my sister’s house, except for my Felicity and Addy dolls. Felicity and Addy live with me.
LIZ: Expensive dolls: worth it?
GRACE: Totally. They were a great framework for learning about money and history, plus the stories are great and the stuff is beautiful.
LIZ: I still have Samantha and all of her accessories, and none of the various Barbie stuff I had as a kid. So yes, definitely worth it.
Liz Niemer lives in Minneapolis with roommates and a 6-foot poster of Justin Trudeau. Grace Flinsch runs and bikes in Minneapolis and still doesn’t understand what fabric softener is for.
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