Standing 18-inches tall, the American Girl doll towers over her competition with more than 18 million dolls sold since the company was founded in 1986 and raking in $436 million in sales during 2009 alone.
Whether designed in the likeness of her owner, a representation of a historical girl from the past (this reporter is partial to the now-retired Samantha doll from the Victorian era), or an American Girl of the Year, the dolls represent a sense of girl power and stick-to-it-ness.
Of course, all of that positive self-reinforcement comes at a price. At $95 for a doll and paperback book, the American Girl doll is pricey, but parents are willing to spend a bit extra for a well-manufactured doll. "I think they're just really well made dolls," said Mandi Ehman, a mother of four girls who owned an American Girl doll herself as a child. "I still have my doll, and she still looks beautiful. To me, it's definitely worth the investment in the dolls themselves."
The price of the actual doll is only one small portion of the total cost of owning an American Girl doll. Every budding fashionista knows how important trendy clothes and accessories are, and American Girl has furnished the ensembles to make the dolls look just as chic as their owners.
"There are very positive messages," said Erica J. Sandberg, a San Francisco mother with a 7-year-old. "It is a nice simple, straight forward, and a very non-sexualized version of girl power. The only regret is that kids can get so wrapped up with everything." Sandberg's daughter, Lillian, owns approximately 25 outfits and numerous accessories and spends most of her allowance money on purchasing the expensive American Girl swag.
The average cost of an AG doll outfit is $24, according to the retailer, not to mention the accessories that accompany it. For young girls that take part in equestrian, a perfectly-proportioned horse can be purchased for $75, and girls can choose between a "sporty" or "fancy" riding outfit, to make the activity complete, each retailing at $34.
The most economically-priced doll tote is sold at $22 – a bargain compared the doll-sized zip-up carrier for $58, which conveniently includes pockets to store outfits for the doll on-the-go. American Girl also reinforces personal care by offering a "healthy smile set" (braces, a faux electric toothbrush, and headgear), nail care kit, and hair care kit, priced at $14, $10, and $20. The doll can even sit at a vanity table while combing her hair for a mere $68. When it's time for bedtime, dolls can choose from a wide variety sleeping accommodations from Addy's (a newly freed slave girl) modest wood frame bed at $48 to Julie's (the newest historical girl, representing the 1970s) colorful canopy bed for $118.
Even when a doll is sufficiently outfitted with all of her necessities, there are always more options available at the American Girl Place stores. They are every young girl's fantasy – packed with every doll, outfit, and accessory imaginable as well as a full-service doll salon, doll hospital, and café. A girl and her doll can even spend a magical day at the New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles store. For between$250 and $260, a girl, her doll, and a parent can have a meal for two, a sitting at the Photo Studio with a souvenir issue of American Girl magazine, an appointment at the Doll Hair Salon, $130 of spending money, and matching souvenir t-shirts for both girl and doll.
"Our founder wanted to protect girlhood," said Susan Jevens, Senior Public Relations Associate at American Girl. "To really help girls be girls, celebrate who are, and keep them in that time period a little bit longer."
With a total price tag well over $600, an American Girl doll is a big investment, but then again, can you really put a price on childhood?
WalletPop Breakdown of Owning an American Girl Doll:
American Girl Doll: $95
5 Everyday outfits: 5 x $24: $120
Fancy Dress: $32
Bathing suit or ski outfit: $34
Toy puppy (if you have a dog, so should your doll!): $20
Doll-sized zip-up carrier: $58
Bed and nightwear: $100
Table and chair set: $75
Set of various accessories: $35
AG Hair Care Kit: $10
Girl-sized outfit to match the doll: $65
Grand Total: $644