I spent over 90 minutes in an American Girl store today. The Denver store is nothing like the ones in New York or Chicago. There is only one story and no cafe. Our mission: to have her doll’s hair styled at the Doll Salon. Yes, for $20 you too can choose from over 100 hairstyles including a fishtail braid and an up do (tiara extra). For an extra $5, you can have the doll’s skin polished to look like new. Lily chose ribbons, the style of the month, and ear piercing for another $14.
The people who work there are fanatics. While Lily was browsing, grown women approach us saying, “I like that dress, too. I bought it for my doll Julie.” I don’t know what I would prefer to think. That they are lying to sell product or that these adults actually buy and collect overpriced dolls and accessories. For those of you not familiar with this brand, a doll costs $110. Each comes with a book that explains the character’s complicated back story. All of them have overcome adversity and learned important lessons. Kanani works to save endangered seals in Hawaii, and helps out at her family’s shave ice stand. Kit adjusts to her family’s dwindling resources during the great depression and learns to help others. You can purchase Kit’s bed and quilt for only $94. And the clothes. I heard a mother say in line today, “I’m spending more on a bathing suit for this doll than I did on my own.”
After 30 minutes of tortured browsing, my daughter takes shopping with her own money very seriously, it was our turn. A young woman, who resembled a doll herself carefully put a plastic drape around the doll’s neck and strapped her into a chair. Her hands shook while she worked and I wondered if she was hungry. But she was positive, exited, and helpful throughout the hour it took. And I think I could like this woman. When Lily said she was reading Harry Potter, the woman said that that series made a reader of her. She’s a reader. I felt a connection when she said that she sometimes stays up all night reading. Right now, she is working her way through all of Sherlock Homes for at least the second time. Also, she just cut 14 inches off her hair to donate to locks of love. She was kind and patient with my daughter, explaining how to create a similar style at home. When my daughter picked out purple and pink ribbons, the woman said, “What a great choice. I love how those colors look in Caroline’s hair,” and she really sounded like she meant it.
But she also talked about how many doll’s she has purchased since she started working there. Also, she knows the back stories of all of the dolls, but perhaps that’s a job requirement. Maybe I”m just too cynical to believe that any adult would be that exited working in retail selling a children’s toy. But it’s more than a toy. It’s a middle class aspirational brand like Michael Kors Handbags and Ugg Boots. The same doll from Target won’t have the same anymore than a JC Penny purse.
And the stories created for the dolls are positive and compelling. It’s like they are real. In fact, they have to take the dolls into the back room to pierce their ears. The use a drill and that can traumatize the children. Also, the hair stylist is not allowed to say that we could order a new head for the doll if the hair is ruined. She spelled the word h-e-a-d and said that they are told to say “new hair” instead. And if your expensive doll needs repairing, you can send her to the “doll hospital.”
Even with the positive message, there is still a lot of emphasis on clothing and hairstyles. Fortunately, my mother-in-law has patterns and enjoys sewing doll clothes for Lily. The doll wore a grandma creation to the store today. I worried that the store might not like that, but Lily said, “i don’t care because I like it and my grandma made it. ” I guess the kid is alright.