American Girl 2015 Holiday Catalogue: A Comparison

I know I’m probably the only one out their weird enough to review a catalogue, but I think the new Holiday catalogue really makes some interesting contrasts with my catalogue collection from the late nineties, so I am anxious to share my thoughts. I won’t be offended, though, if you don’t feel like reading my detailed page-by-page analysis of a catalogue. ūüôā

These are the Holiday catalogue covers from 1997, 1998, and 1999:

This is the new catalogue I just received:

¬†The 2015 Holiday catalogue is¬†very eye-catching catalogue with a lot of fun content, great¬†pictures, and of course, beautiful products. It is very fun to look at (I’ve probably flipped through it 10 times already), but wow. Things sure are different from when I was a kid.¬†To be fair, back then¬†catalogues were American Girl’s only marketing strategy. Obviously today most sales are done through their website. They are of course going to look different, and there really are some advantages to the way things are done today. The pressure of having to fit every marketable item into the catalogue has lessened significantly since the infinite space of the world wide web is at their disposal.

Here are the pages on the inside covers on some of the late nineties catalogues:

I especially love this one:    
This is the 2015 cover inside:  Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 8.57.41 PM

The first picture in this new catalogue is really very cute, and the idea of bringing in an Instagram fan is kind of fun (and genius marketing: “Mom, if I get an American Girl doll I can take awesome pictures and American Girl will put me in their catalogue!”). It contrasts like crazy with the lovely¬†sentiments that prelude the old catalogues (respecting each girl’s time period and making sure each is represented with integrity was clearly very important while in 2015, Addy, Maryellen, Samantha and a slew of girls who¬†would have been born in completely different centuries are¬†all hanging out and having a Christmas party), but also interestingly portrays more or less the same tone as the second picture. Things are changing, but American Girl still stands for a lot of the same things.

Before I get into my detailed, over-the-top, probably unnecessary analysis, I will just summarize my thoughts:

  1. Girls are different than they were 20 years ago, and I have to admit that I feel like they have moved on without me a bit. My love for American Girl grew from basically their exact mission statement as pictured in the first few pages of the old catalogues above, and that just really is not their focus any more. American Girl is trying to sell their product and has to adjust their marketing accordingly. Speaking in general, not as a rule of course, girls are less interested in historically perfect sets and care more about what is cute and sparkly. A lot of girls also would rather take pictures to post on social media sites than read a book set over 100 years ago. American Girl is changing with the times, which is sad in a way, but what choice do they have.
  2. American Girl is trying to sell it’s products from the historical line (or more accurately, “Beforever”,¬†because apparently we can’t¬†call them what they actually are) without making them actually be historical. Oh look, this is retro.¬†This is vintage.¬†Just throw your basketball uniform on that New Mexican-themed bed that could maybe be old fashioned but who really cares–let’s just be eclectic and whimsical.¬†The historical products clearly are not where the money is being made. They are practically screaming, “No, no, no, you don’t have to buy Maryellen in order to buy this expensive diner! Just send your TrulyMe doll back in time, and look how cute she looks! Just buy our stuff, we don’t care!” For the first time since my American Girl Renaissance, I am scared for the future of the historical collection. I didn’t think that they would ever get rid of it, but now I really get the feeling that they are just trying to meld it into one big, interchangeable mix. The doom and gloom in me sees the day when the historical dolls no longer exist and instead there is just a line of “retro” clothes available for the modern dolls; an insufficient nod at their abandoned roots. Of course, I could be more optimistic and perhaps it’s possible that the rebranding and re-marketing of the line is what is will save it….maybe girls need to see that they can have both basketball uniforms and matroyshka dolls. Maybe that is what will help keep their interest and what will save them.
  3. I think to me it sort of looks like they are trying to teach girls how to play with their dolls. Sadly, I think with the advent of technology and constant entertainment, kids are forgetting how to have an imagination. I think American Girl is trying really hard to show them what to do once they have opened their expensive new toy. Set up your clothes and accessories and have them go shopping! Have a sleepover! Have your doll play with her own doll! Their pictures of course always alluded to this in a sense, but now especially with bringing aboard the social media aspect I think AG is really trying to break the conventions of what it means to “play with dolls” and show girls that there are no limitations. Take pictures! Make stop-motion videos! Mix-and-match your own outfits! Be creative! I really think AG is on target with this initiative, because creativity is so important and kids get fewer and fewer chances to be creative in school these days. As Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

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On to the catalogue. Of course the Truly Me dolls are first, because of all the previously stated reasons. The doll they choose to feature is beautiful, though. One of my favorites. Turn the page and we have a little winter scene that really is quite nice, apart from a few little details. Let’s look at¬†our musicians. First of all, even a beginner flute player would never hold a flute like that. The picture is obviously depicting a transition¬†as they flip pages, but even so, the flute should be flipped right side up and her left hand should be near the head-joint (the top). That is the natural position you would use to hold a flute with one hand because of where your hand would already be from when you were playing. Whatever, AG. Just further reason why you should hire me. Also, while I do think the “Sparkle Spotlight Outfit” is pretty cute, I spend half my life teaching my students how to dress appropriately for our concerts and I often say the sentence “There is no such thing as dress shorts.” So thanks for that.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 8.58.42 PM

Moving on to the page with the horses, we have a nice picture by the featured Instagram photographer. It’s cute, and¬†like I mentioned earlier, clever marketing. I chuckle to think about how many new followers this girl will have after this week and how many new AG themed Instagram accounts will be created.

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I absolutely love the picture on page 16. They look like sisters opening up new dolls on Christmas morning! I think AG is bringing the emphasis of “a doll for your doll” back on the mini-dolls. I have never cared for the minis myself, but the idea of my Abby or Daphne having their own historical doll is kind of fun. It at least will hopefully encourage this new generation to have some shred of historical merchandise in their collections.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 8.59.19 PM

Not sure what’s happening here on page 18. We are shopping at a store that sells dance costumes as well as a school dress from the 1950s? I guess it’s just encouraging girls to be creative in how they use their collections, which is good.

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Page 20-21: Coconut? Coconut? Where are you???? Heeeeeere, Coconut!

….seriously, where is Coconut?

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Very cool¬†Fan-Made Photo on page 25; at least this girl’s doll reads about Kaya!

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Cute picture on page 27. Once again, I like the doll-for-your-doll emphasis. Some Julie products have snuck their way into this bedroom scene. This raises my eyebrows just because they’ve never done this historical-modern mix-and-match thing before, but I guess there is no reason why a girl from 2015 can’t have a yellow telephone and eat popcorn.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 9.10.23 PM

Page 28: “What Would I Put Together?” Fun idea, and I¬†can’t frown too much at the¬†historical items being masked as modern since I did this a bit for my own Mix and Match post. Definitely encouraging girls to be creative. It’s also neat to see some input from employees.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 9.01.51 PMScreen Shot 2015-10-19 at 9.01.36 PM

American Girl gave up on the logical system of featuring the dolls in their chronological time-period order sometime in the early 2000s, so we just jump right in with Maryellen from the 1950s. She is so beautiful and her collection really is outstanding, and of course being new it’s understandable that she gets several pages. Maryellen has a time-traveling friend join her in her diner (well, I’ve seen worse things I suppose…and really what else are you supposed to do with with all of those diner seats?) and the full sized feature on pages 50-51 makes me nostalgic for the catalogues from back in the day. I like that this page even features a little blurb about her book (What!? There are books? I thought that these were just pretty dolls to meant to be dressed in pink frillies!).



These are the full length pictures from the 1999 catalogue. I love them so so much. I feel a burning desire to make each of my dolls a personalized garland right now.

I can’t reminisce forever, though, so back to 2015:
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Samantha of course is beautiful and I was especially excited to see a little paragraph featuring some fun historical facts about her ice cream parlor! Maybe there is hope!

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 9.02.18 PM

Addy looks adorable here! (She is next on my list!) And yay! More history! I love the rope feature on her bed and I will definitely get it one day. I have Caroline’s, which also has this perfect detail, and it is awesome.

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Josefina gets a fun little behind the scenes-type of blurb here and also is graced with another “Fan Made Photo” that features Josefina in Caroline’s parlor. Josefina would have had powder blue walls and a model ship, right?…Oh well, I’ve seen worse. She does look very pretty and I love the addition of her fan to her Christmas dress.

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Pages 60-61 is where I really grimace.¬†This is literally the opposite of¬†what American Girl used to be.¬†We’ve gone from organized historical sets of beautiful products directly related to a series of books to come one, come all, mix and match all you want! Just buy our stuff, sure Kit can sit in Julie’s egg chair! Josefina can lay her basketball uniform out on her bed before she grabs her backpack and heads off to practice! And I am sure some music from a jukebox will help Rebecca drift right off to sleep! Maybe I’m thinking about it wrong, I don’t know. Maybe I am too much of a purist. My sister would strongly agree. Evidently she thinks I was horrible to play dolls with when we were little and that I ruined her childhood (I might have been a little uptight in how I played dolls, but I think her childhood was mostly undamaged). My perspective is that¬†I have high standards, but her words include obsessive, extreme, and anal (we really do love each other, we are just good at being honest). I guess this maybe is a way to help girls think creatively and maybe I need to look at it as a healthy mix of culture rather than an explosion of disaster. Probably most 10 year olds would look at these pages and think they are adorable. I’m just having a hard time wrapping my mind around this new perspective, though if it encourages girls to buy the historical merchandise then I guess I can’t complain too much.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 9.03.08 PM

Keep flipping the pages and Rebecca, Kit, and Kaya are all featured with nice layouts and fun Fan Favorite Detail sections. I especially like that the mention the research that went into Kaya’s set (though I was sure I remember reading in her books that her teepee was made of tule mats, not buffalo hide…I will have to check on that). Kaya also has a nice Fan Photo on her page.

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I adore the picture on page 68.¬†They are doing an admirable job in convincing me that Abby and Daphne need dolls of their own. Yeah, I’m pretty convinced, actually. I’m thinking Kaya for Daphne and Maryellen or Rebecca for Abby.

It really is a fun catalogue, I just yearn a bit for the times of old. I can’t keep times from changing and I should just feel good that there are still girls who want to play with dolls. In my own little world of dolls, historical accuracy will always be¬†important, but I respect my fellow AG fans’ right to play with their dolls however they choose. Something I need to remember is that were it not for AG’s marketing, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. About this time last year, a catalogue showed up at my mom’s house which sparked nostalgia and a Christmas gift idea…


12 Comments Add yours

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post(yes, I read the whole post)! It was very interesting and thoughtful. I, too, prefer the older catalogs, where the Historical Characters were much more prominent. Even a couple years ago the HCs got more than one page in the holiday catalog! But, despite everything, I still think the 2015 holiday catalog is fun to look at it. But I wish there were more full page scenes; I love those. There were so many gorgeous scenes in the 2013 holiday catalog. Oh, one last thing-I love those old vertical pages of the HCs in their Christmas outfits. Those are so fun!!
    ~Christian Homeschooler

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks for the comment! Yes, the full page scenes are the best. I will have to see if I can find a Holiday 2013 catalogue to look at, thanks for the tip!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. CutePolarBear says:

    I agree with basically everything you said! I think with the Kit-in-Julie’s egg chair thing is basically AG doing what their customers do, which is cool, I guess, but I don’t think it’s really AG’s place to put those rooms together. About the mini dolls- I think the mini dolls were always supposed to be the dolls’ dolls, (it comes with a doll sized books, after all) but since they never actually said it, the customers didn’t get the hint. But, overall, I totally like the really old catalogs best.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks for commenting! Yes, it is interesting how they’ve marketed the mini dolls. The older catalogues (I’m looking at late nineties-early 2000s as I type this) refers to them as “A Doll for Your Doll” but then that goes away after some time. The minis are definitely growing on me; I like that they can be a less expensive alternative to having a regular sized doll for girls and also can be a way for your modern dolls to join in the fun of having their own historical doll!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Flo says:

    There were a lot of rumors in the spring about Coconut being discontinued and I take the exclusion from the latest catalogs to more or less be confirmation about those rumors. It makes me sad, I’ve always loved Coconut and made sure I got one of the newer ones when they came out. I guess the final nail in the coffin will be if Coconut shows up in the Cyber Monday week sales at a reduced price. ūüė¶

    Cool blog, I can’t believe I missed this one! A friend told me about it, I have added it to my regular reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Emily says:

      Yes, I too had heard rumblings about Coconut moving into the doggie archives, which bums me out. Licorice the Cat, the second pet introduced, has been gone for quite some time I think so I guess it was inevitable. Still too bad… I have an original Coconut (the non-posable really heavy version) and I think she is so sweet, but I also love the revamped posable version. There is still a lot of Coconut merchandise available since she kind of became a logo of sorts, so I wonder if that would be discontinued too. Thanks for the nice comment, I followed your blog, too. ūüôā

      Liked by 2 people

  4. EsDolls says:

    I too find it sad that AG needs to teach kids how to play with their dolls. But I’ve seen first hand that they do in fact need to – I work with kids, and the number of 9 year old girls who think liking dolls is embarrassing is really frightening. So if showing girls ways to mix and match will keep kids interested in dolls longer, I’m all for it, because I want the company around so I can stay interested in dolls as well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Emily says:

      Agreed! I think that showing girls that playing with dolls can be “cool” by incorporating the social media component is a really good idea. I work with kids too and I see the same problem. Sadly I think the target age of 8-12 is way off…I seriously doubt I could find a twelve year old who is into dolls. I did spot a fifth grader one day looking through a catalogue after school which prompted me to drop everything I was doing and have a lengthy conversation with her about dolls. ūüôā

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sunny says:

    I LOVED this post! I really enjoyed reading your opinions on the new catalog vs. the 90’s catalogs, and it was so cool to see those pictures of the historical girls. I agree with pretty much everything you said.
    I’m kind of “half-and-half” on the “mixing modern with historical” idea. I do get the message AG is trying to send: that no matter what time period they live in, girls are still girls, etc. But Kit in Julie’s egg chair? Really? I think that’s pushing it a little….
    I DO NOT like how American Girl’s focus these days seems to be on the Truly Me girls. That is just so upsetting.
    It kind of makes me sad to look at the old catalog pages…AG seemed like it was so much better back in the day. I wish Pleasant Rowland was still in charge–somehow I think that if she was, things at AG would be much different, and a lot better than they are right now. ūüôā
    Again, GREAT post! I hope there’ll be more of these in the future. ūüėČ

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Emily says:

      Thank you so much! I agree that it is hard to change with the times, but fortunately there are some good things to focus on that have happened recently. Like Maryellen!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sharry A. says:

    Although I wasn’t a kid when the Pleasant Company dolls came out, I did get these catalogs in the mail. (and didn’t save them, darn it!) I really loved looking through them. The photography was a lot better. And yes, the primary focus was on the Historical characters. At that time, my fave characters were Addy, Kirsten and Molly. I loved the whole holiday feel. But like you, I am a little picky about mixing historical w/ modern and mixing time periods. All of my “modern day” 18 inch dolls are 70s doll, (b/c that’s MY childhood), but I do own quite a few minis. (and yes, my big girls love playing w/ their little girls). But I think AG has lost their holiday feel. None of the historical characters in the BF line have any holiday pictures in the new catalog. This makes me sad. And I know little girls turn their historicals into modern day dolls (another pet peeve of mine), but I don’t know why AG has to do that in that catalogs. Kit in Julie’s egg chair is just wrong to me. But as a teacher, I see childhood slipping away from kids nowadays in favor of things like social media and technology. Most have lost the ability to make believe and invent little worlds all their own, so I am glad AG is encouraging that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Emily says:

      I agree, the more we can encourage kids (and adults!) to use their imagination, the better! I love how you are so creative with making your own little seventies world. And wow, somehow I didn’t even notice that most of the Beforever dolls aren’t wearing their holiday outfits…good observation, but that’s really too bad. I do love the full page of Maryellen in her ice skating outfit, though! That puts me in the mood for snow!

      Liked by 1 person

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