March 23, 2007

Marketing doll snobbery.

Andrew Sullivan links to "I Can't Believe I'm Defending the American Girl Doll Racket" and says "But he is, Blanche, he is." I stand ready to get all manner of references to "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane," but that post is written by Christine Hurt, who I am certain is a woman.

Anyway, it's a terrific post, about decidedly girly things, and I would love it if one of the male bloggers at Conglomerate had weighed in on the subject, but let's give Christine her due. And I agree with her that American Girl is justified snubbing copycat dolls who show up at the doll hair salon. Even though the AG employee should have been kinder to the little girl with the "fake doll" than the girl's mother portrays her, the mother should have known better than to allow her child to walk into a humiliating situation.


Joan said...

The mom wrote, referring to her daughter after this experience: To think, she might have gotten through first grade with her self-confidence intact!

If this one incident is enough to shatter the girl's self-esteem, she has led a very sheltered life indeed. And whose fault would that be?

This is a tempest in a teapot. Yes, the AG clerk could've handled it more nicely -- but who can say she (I'm assuming it was a she) didn't, but is being misrepresented because the mother is ticked off that her daughter was disappointed? Given all the hyperbole that mom is spouting, I don't consider her a reliable witness.

I'm 100% sure that AG stores deal with this all the time, and that their employees are trained on how to deal with knock-offs and their owners. The Target doll may have only cost $30 but the fact that it exists at all is due to the success of AG dolls, and you can be sure that Target isn't losing any money on them, either. Why should AG contribute to Target's bottom line?

One would think there's an opportunity here for someone to open a salon and tea house for any doll. But you don't see any because they wouldn't be able to carry the AG merchandise, and so would not be able to provide the same shopping opportunities. Not to mention the fact that there probably wouldn't be enough profit potential with a lower-priced line of dolls and accessories.

BTW, I love that places like the AG salons, Build-A-Bear Workshop, and Club Libby Lu are all doing terrific business. It's a testimony to how well the economy is doing, no matter how much doom and gloom spin the media tries to put out. The reality is, if the money is not there, shopping for extravagant extras for children is bound to be curtailed. Yes, I know there are people who go into debt spoiling their kids, but they're a tiny minority.

George said...

Same thing happened to me when I was a kid.

My old man got me this SuperSpy gun that changed from a movie camera into a machine gun. Thing broke during guerilla combat action with Dennis, my Nazi "friend." Took it to the gun shop. SOB wouldn't fix it. Jeez. Ruined my life.

Beth said...

My god what a bunch of nasty, nasty women. What's wrong with these adults, the stylist and the other moms in line, that they can't treat a little child with a bit of kindness? Even while I can fault this girl's mom for not making a phone call to find out the store's policies, I can't help but be sickened by such vile snobbery. I can't see where AG offers anything worthwhile to our culture, other than producing a crop of little Heathers.

reality check said...
American Girl

Follow your inner star

American girl celebrates a girl's inner star -- the little whisper inside that encourages her to stand tall, reach high, and dream big. We take pride and care in helping girls become their very best today so they'll grow up to be the women who make a difference tomorrow.

As long as they can afford our hundred dollar dolls.

Come spend a day you’ll never forget—at American Girl Place New York. Situated in the heart of the Big Apple’s most prestigious shopping, cultural, and business neighborhood, American Girl Place New York is much more than a store. It’s a place for magical experiences and memories you’ll cherish forever.

As long as you can afford our hundred dollar dolls.

Treat your doll to a new ’do! Give her a sassy ponytail flip, an elegant bun, or a long braid. Visit the Doll Hair Salon, and let one of our specially trained stylists work magic on your doll’s hair.

And be sure to ask about adding on a Pampering Plus package for dolls, complete with a facial scrub and nail decals!

General information

* The Doll Hair Salon is open during regular store hours
* Prices range from $10 to $20 for styling
* Pampering Plus package is $5 with any hairstyle
* Appointments not accepted
* Please stop by early to check availability

(the extra fine print so fine that it's not present: "must be a real american doll)

Kaya -- An adventurous girl with a generous spirit. This native american character could afford $100 dollar dolls. Why can't you?

Addy -- A courageous girl, smart and strong, growing up during the Civil War. This young slave girl could certainly afford $100 dollar dolls. Why can't you?

I agree completely with Professor Althouse. The "mother" should have known better. (Ha! I love how feminist Ann blames it on mom and not on Dad!)

Personally, I think "mom" should have her daughter taken by CPS.

reality check said...

Extra precious bonus points:, pics of all the diverse american girls of diverse heritages and their hundred dollar diverse dolls.

Reality: what is the ethnic makeup of hundred dollar doll owners?

monkeyboy said...


Why complain if someone is "rich" enough to buy an expensive doll? Perhaps its only because it puts you in opposition to our hostess?

I know! They can by cheap doll offsets by investing in Mattel!

FWIW my daughter loves the Felicity (colonial) series. Read several of the books borrowed from the library, never asked for a doll.

Ann Althouse said...

"(Ha! I love how feminist Ann blames it on mom and not on Dad!)"

Point me to Dad's blog post and if it says things I object to, I'll criticize him too.

Molly said...

My sisters and I all had our own American Girl dolls growing up (then $82), and yes, they are expensive, but they are extremely well made and fantastic dolls to play with. We also were only allowed one or two of the expensive outfits for each doll. Sure, it would be ridiculous to expect most people to buy multiple dolls and all of their accessories for their children, but $100 is not too much to spend on a high quality toy. And the best part about the dolls are the accompanying well-written historical books. As a little white small town girl the doll I desperately wanted and finally received was Addy, an escaped slave girl. Any company based in encouraging children to read and learn about different cultures is okay with me. You can participate in reading the books and owning a doll without buying every single ridiculously expensive accessory.

reality check said...

Did you actually read what you linked to? (Why do I bother asking?)

Mom was not in attendance. The girl was asked by a friend.

As I pointed out, the website says nothing about only real real dolls being good. the website says what the price of the services are.

Why should Mom be blamed alone and not Dad? Why didn't Dad know enough to call the store and make sure they accepted less than a hundred dollar dolls?

Molly, I love it! Glad to know that since your parents could afford an $82 doll that $100 is not too expensive for anyone.

Molly said...

Better to buy your kid a $100 doll they'll play with for years than an equivalent amount of $15 plastic toys that will be ignored in a couple weeks. Of course not everyone is going to be able to afford a $100 toy of any kind, but I think it's silly to describe it as being a completely outlandish toy only for wealthy kids.

monkeyboy said...


You do realize that if our hostess had come to the defense of the mom you would be calling her an communist for not letting the store set its own policy.

I wandered around the OOTHM website, thank whatever deity you believe in (but not Christ!) she doesn't live near you.

monkeyboy said...

The linked blog says OOTHM is "an FAO Schwartz buyer who lives in a Brooklyn brownstone"

Don't know much about the housing market in NYC, but if a person with a huge chip on her shoulder makes a claim about a competitor should'nt we take it with a grain of salt?

Drew W said...

When my daughter was deeply into the American Girl-thing, their NYC store was a slice of nirvana for her and her friends. It's well-run and has a very polite staff. The AG return policy is excellent. Any broken AG accessory is promptly replaced -- assuming they have it in stock -- with no questions asked. (And that includes one item that I kind of accidentally broke myself but told them it came that way.) The whole AG experience is very charming for girls and mortifyingly expensive for parents, especially if you want to eat at their café. (And for a divorced dad like me, it's where you'd see the cutest moms in the Tri-State Area -- I used to refer to it as Mommapalooza -- but I suppose that's neither here nor there.)

The AG brand is everything to AG, which should surprise no one. Target may make AG-like dolls, but would it really crush a child to learn that a knock-off AG doll had better steer clear of the real AG store? (If I walked into the Apple Store in Soho and asked them to fix my iriver or Zune, should I expect them to?) AG dolls are a status item, and status items are exclusionary by their very nature. If you don't like the precious, status-conscious nature of the AG universe, tell your kid how you feel about it, get her something else and don't go to the AG store. (Nobody's saying that will satisfy the child, but you'd at least be acting honestly.)

I'm probably just projecting this, but "Etta's mom" -- the former FAO Schwartz personal shopper who thinks the American Girl store should've coiffed her daughter's Target Girl doll -- seems unconvincing when she professes ignorance at how the AG place would deal with non-AG products. (She claims to have been in the toy business, after all.) She sounds more to me like another earnest lefty who thinks defying mundane rules is some sort of cry for freedom. I'm getting a mental image of someone who thinks they're doing a public service by wearing a "Question Authority" button, and privately looks down on all those sheeple who just play along by society's set of artificial rules -- while she's out bravely challenging the status quo. As represented by a wealthy child's toy store. (The fact that this woman could well be one of my neighbors in affluent "Brownstone Brooklyn" is to me . . . well . . . all too predictable. I can only assume she was being sarcastic when she called her neighborhood "impoverished.")

Granted, the AG store might have dodged a little bad PR by quietly doing the knock-off doll's hair, and if the AG staffer was less than polite, that violated the rules that any sensible retailer should follow. I feel great sympathy for the little girl, but not the mother and her wealthy woman's version of class warfare.

Kevin Lomax said...

I have it from reliable sources formerly from deep within the ivory towers of American Girl corporate headquarters near the towering ceremonial Oak tree that the company receives letters similar to the irate mommy blog post every single day. I have no doubt that American Girl Place staff are well trained on how to politely handle these types of incidents since they obviously happen often.

MN Mom said...

My two daughters currently have five American Girl dolls between the two of them. I agonized for a year over the purchase of their initial dolls with concerns about the high price tag, whether the dolls would be played with or sit neglected, and would the dolls withstand normal play.

The dolls are of exceptionally high quality. The clothing an accessories are as well. I do not regret the purchase of these and my daughters love them and play with them often.

However, anyone who has ever gone to an American Girl store also knows that the doll salon is a high demand area that occasionally has very long snaking lines of girls waitin (no reservations accepted). As such, I think AG's policy is entirely appropriate. They have a limited number of dolls they can style, but potentially a much higher demand. AG is catering to their direct customers who have purchased their dolls and products and will continue to purchase from AG in the future.

The mother should have known better when she let her daughter go with a friend. If her daughter did not have an AG doll, her daughter could have attended as her friend's companion without an accompanying Target doll and there would have been no unpleasant experience and she could have vicariously taken enjoyment in her friend's reward.

The mother, as a former employee in the retail world, should also know that stores do set limits, particularly with resources they have in limited supply. Her letter is sarcastic in the extreme and does not dignify a response from AG. With the mother's paraphrasing matching the entire tone of the letter, I am suspect of the actual comments made by the stylist and other customers.

Jennifer said...

Well, that snarky letter was a fun read. (Etta's learning the ropes of bitter victimhood from a master! Yay!) Did Etta (in first grade!) during her sobbing fit manage to hear the other mothers' comments and report back? Did Etta's friend's mother choose to listen intently to the other mothers' conversations rather than console Etta or speak with the stylist? Maybe Etta's mom made a bad call and would like to blame everyone else! Great lesson!

And I couldn't help laughing at the first comment her post received. I have my own doll accessory web site! We're proud to be fake! Buy our stuff! Yeesh.

I feel bad for Etta. For her probably heartbreaking experience. And for the way she is being taught to deal with it.

Pogo said...

Downtown Chicago, tons of average girls walking around with AG dolls. It's cute. What's the big deal? What manufactured victimization is this? AG knows what it can do to hair they make; it cannot do so with other makers. Simple as that. God what a bore that woman must be. Funny she couldn't manage to work in a global warming bit.

My daughter loved her AG doll. At the time we bought it, we weren't making the median national income by a long shot, quite a bit below it, in fact. It was her only present that year, but well-cared for. My wife made clothes for it. It was, though, just a doll, and had no magical powers that affected my little girl's fragile self-esteem. And the republic survived.

Why does the left always think it's 1933?

Anthony said...

I got my niece an AG gift card for Christmas 2005 and she and my sister (her aunt) went on a day trip up to NYC (from Baltimore) to spend it at this store. Now, of course, I get the catalogs. . . . .

I'm guessing that everyone complaining about the price of these dolls is equally incensed at the prices of some sneakers in other neighborhoods.

Smilin' Jack said...

And I agree with her that American Girl is justified snubbing copycat dolls who show up at the doll hair salon.

More than justified--required. It's their raison d'etre. AG customers know perfectly well that many people can't afford AG dolls--that's why they patronize AG, and other exclusive shops, nightclubs, etc.--so that they'll never have to come in contact with those losers. And yet not only does this one come waltzing right into the shop, she starts sniveling all over everything when her faux pas is pointed out (ewww...who knows what kind of germs those people carry?) Nightclubs have bouncers, residential buildings have doormen, etc. precisely to keep the scum out and prevent these problems. AG needs to follow their example.

Bissage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richie D said...

as a kid, I had a GI JOE. He went through the neighborhood version of Viet Nam and lost his right foot. I showed the injured soldier to my neighbor (a young Viet Nam vet)who said "Now he looks like a real soldier."

Bissage said...

Etta’s mom was indeed remiss. She should have foreseen the potential for conflict and instructed her daughter to tuck a fiver under the doll’s blouse.

Here’s the scene:

Etta (now mature beyond her years):Oh, I am so very sorry. I had no idea. But are you sure this is not an authentic American Girl Doll? Why don’t you check again.

Poorly Paid Doll Stylist: "Why, of course, Miss, everything seems to be quite in order. My mistake. Now, what's our little friend's name and what would she like?

A useful life skill one can’t learn early enough.

Ann Althouse said...

reality check said..."Did you actually read what you linked to? (Why do I bother asking?) Mom was not in attendance. The girl was asked by a friend....Why should Mom be blamed alone and not Dad?"

The mother wrote the blog post. It is her portrayal. I know she's going on hearsay. That only makes it less trustworthy. She's the one going public with her complaint. If there is a dad in the picture involved in the story and he's written something I can react to, I will. Obviously, I don't think parenting is just the mother's concern, so spare me the bogus feminist argument.

MadisonMan said...

The daughter's many AG dolls are in a box somewhere in the house.

It's a little known fact that the AG distribution center in Middlteon has a grandmother-detecting radar in it. When grandmothers approach, a dollar magnet is turned on, suctioning money out of purses as dolls materialize in the trunks of cars. Because my in-laws live close by, they were particularly susceptible to the dollar magnet, to my daughter's delight.

The store in Chicago is truly frightening. Mothers, daughters, and dolls dressed alike. Run! Run away!

Sigivald said...


Do people outside of Chicago and New York even hear about these things?

Is it just that I live in some sort of bubble, somehow?

Ann Althouse said...

I originally learned about these dolls from catalogues, long before the stores opened, so I assume people all over the country know about them.

American Girl dolls are thought highly here in Wisconsin. The woman who dreamed them up -- and ultimately made a fortune selling to Mattel -- lives here and has donated immense amounts of money to the arts community.

There is nothing bad about having some high-priced quality toys. They make great gifts. Grandmas have to buy something for little girls. These are beautiful and educational, and really much better than just about any other gift you can think of for a little girl.

Kris said...

Reliable sources told me that the reason they won't do the hair of knockoff dolls is becaues they don't know what the wigs are made of. Apparently these doll salon employees are given rather detailed instructions on what they can do to each doll's hair without ruining the wig.

Fen said...

Why complain if someone is "rich" enough to buy an expensive doll?

Especially when its so relative. The whiner could keep an entire Somoli village from starving for what he pays for internet access.

So its not compassion, its envy.

Revenant said...

Thank you, RC, for expressing concern over the poverty of a girl who was spending twenty dollars getting a doll's hair styled at a boutique.

I'm sure she came straight there from her job in the coal mines -- only to be turned away, tears rolling down her soot-stained cheeks.

reality check said...

Do your lips move when you read? The girl was invited by a friend. Everyone thought the price was $10 as it says on their website.

Internet Ronin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Revenant said...

Oh, I'm sorry, RC. That the girl was spending $10 on doll hairstyling instead of $20 totally undermines my point. I stand corrected. I'm sure poor people spend $10 getting their dolls' hair styled all the time.

Beth said...

I don't mind their cost, I mind the that the lesson of that cost, for some, is that "you're very special, and other little girls with Target dolls are little social interlopers at whom we turn up our noses." Kids these days have expensive toys, and a message of this one that I do like is that "you're special to me, I want to give you something you'll treasure and take care of for a long time." That's besides the stories that come with the dolls. If I have to pin it down, it's the whole salon thing I dislike. Paying people to do the doll's hair and makeup, well, it's just a wee bit Marie Antoinette.

peter hoh said...

Of course some kids can't afford a $100 doll -- they're wearing $120 sneakers.

Sorry, couldn't resist the snark.

Seriously, we all make choices. The American Girl doll is expensive, but for most of the target demographic, it's an affordable luxury. For families who are really struggling, the $30 knock-off doll at Target is also expensive.

AG is selling an experience. An experience that, to their credit, includes books and history lessons.

Omaha1 said...

Oh Play-Date, come out and shop with me
And bring your gift cards three
To pass security
Look down our noses
As we walk through the door
And we’ll be snooty friends forever more.

So sorry Play-Date, you cannot shop with me
Your dolly’s not A.G.
Tee hee hee hee hee hee
Can’t get her hair done
Can’t get her past the door
But I’ll buy jolly friends at A.G.’s store

Pastor_Jeff said...

Did you read that mother's post? Wow. Makes me believe she's honestly reporting what happened.

And I'm sure she would have been very understanding if AG had styled the doll and all the hair fell out because it wasn't made of the same materials as theirs.

What world is this woman living in, anyway? She knows the dolls are expensive, she reads on the AG website about styling dolls, and then thinks that means any doll you want to bring in? Like AG isn't a business? Does this woman get mad at the airport because premier members have their own private check-in?

Pastor_Jeff said...


I agree. The social snobbery is the ugly side of the AG phenomenon. Of course, it isn't limited to expensive dolls. The poorest kids make those kinds of distinctions among themselves, too -- and without parental encouragement.

This girl is learning that some people will only measure you by externals (money, sexual orientation, party affiliation), while others care more about what kind of person you are. Unfortunately, the mother doesn't sound like she'll help her daughter work through that with grace and maturity.

George said...

But, but what about my toy cameragun?!

This stinky blog is just for girls! It's not fair.


They're throwing beanbags at meeeee!

Ma-ooom! Ow. Ow. Hey, cut it out....

Brian said...

Around 5th Ave. and 49th St. in New York City, the bike taxis line up outside the American Girl store, because the mothers and girls like to take these rides. Sometimes the mothers teams up, so there's 2 moms side by side, each with a girl on their lap. One time I saw 2 moms with girls on their laps, and the girls were each holding up dolls above their laps, and all 4 humans were screaming (with joy, the way girls like to scream on roller-coasters) as the biker swiftly navigated them down a busy 5th Ave.

I still don't quite know how to process that sight, but I've come to the tentative conclusion that it was a good thing.

issasnyder2325 said...

It never stated they couldn't do other dolls. If it was because it had different kind of hair, or she was afraid it would fall out she could have just said so. Not had to tell the girl it wasn't a real doll. What's wrong with the other mothers, why would they comment like that, and why does everyone else on here think it is acceptable. You must all be the rich snobby people the lady was talking about. I would be really upset if this happened to my daughter. What happened to manners and curtesy I guess if you can't afford the doll you don't deserve any. How sad that you all find it acceptable to treat someone that way.