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18-Inch Dolls for Girls

Updated on August 11, 2016
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Brainy Bunny is a mother of two. Together they read, craft, and play games for fun.

Are you looking to buy a doll for your daughter or granddaughter as a gift? Perhaps she has already come to you and pointed out a horrifyingly expensive set that would have paid for all the clothes in your closet when you were her age. Here is a guide to help you figure out the pros and cons of the main brands of 18-inch dolls on the market today.

These dolls are generally aimed at girls between the ages of eight and ten, although girls as young as six can grow into their dolls, especially the ones that include storybooks. Likewise, tweens may be reluctant to give their dolls up if they've developed strong attachments, so you may still be able to get away with a gift of a new doll outfit even for an eleven- or twelve-year-old. It all depends on the girl!

Molly is one of the classic American Girl dolls. Her story is set during World War II.
Molly is one of the classic American Girl dolls. Her story is set during World War II. | Source

American Girl Dolls

American Girl dolls are the gold standard of 18-inch dolls. They are aimed at girls between the ages of eight and ten years old, and have a tremendous variety of books, accessories, clothing, and furniture available to make your daughter's playtime complete. The dolls are well-made, their clothing is washable, and the accompanying books are very well-written and historically accurate.

AG offers three different lines of dolls, all of which can share clothes and accessories.

  • The historical dolls, which are the most famous, each have six books available that tell the character's story as lives through an exciting period on history, such as the Revolutionary War or the Great Depression.
  • The contemporary dolls (called Girl of the Year, since they come out with a new one annually) have two books available. Each girl tackles a common problem that upper-elementary-grade girls can relate to. McKenna, the 2012 Girl of the Year, spends a lot of time practicing gymnastics, but has trouble keeping up with her reading in school. Past girls focused on homesickness, environmental awareness, and good sportsmanship, among other topics.
  • My American Girl is a doll that you can choose the features of to reflect the gift recipient. Currently there are 40 styles to choose from, each a different combination of skin tone, hair color, eye color, and hair style. These dolls don't have their own books, but you can buy matching outfits for your daughter and doll to wear together. You can personalize the doll further with an outfit reflecting your daughter's favorite sport or activity.

The only drawback to American Girl dolls (and it's a biggie) is the price. A single doll with one book costs $105. Add a doll's accessories in (usually a hat, purse, and toy or jewelry), and the price rises to $124. Skip the accessories but opt for the complete book collection (six books featuring the character) and you'll have to shell out $128! The price of a bed ranges from $65 all the way up to $225, and a single dollhouse-type room can cost $300.

So what's a frugal mom or grandma to do? Buy the books online, and check out other brands of 18-inch dolls that offer much better value.

Our Generation Dolls

Our Generation dolls are available at Target for much, much less than American Girl dolls. Some of them also come with a book, although entire series are not available for the dolls. There is also a huge line of furniture and accessories (including a horse!) available. The furniture is often plastic and tends toward excessive pinkness, but it offers much better value for the money than AG-branded furniture, despite the lower quality.

Our Generation Deluxe poseable 18-inch dolls come with a chapter book featuring the doll's character, as well as an additional outfit and several accessories, all for around $30. The Our Generation Regular dolls are not poseable and don't come with a book, but at just $23 the price simply can't be beat.

Our Generation also offers outfit collections (with four complete outfits, including shoes), shoe collections, pets, and vehicles.

A word of caution: These dolls are usually cheaper at Target than anywhere else online. I've included the Amazon link just so you can see some of the variety available.

Carpatina Dolls

If your daughter is a history buff or a fan or other cultures, check out Carpatina dolls. Carpatina offers two distinct products.

  • Carpatina Fantasy Adventures dolls are 18-inch dolls, some historic, some contemporary, that are made entirely of vinyl, unlike most other dolls of this size. Their large eyes and beautifully tinted skin make them lovely to look at. They're slightly less expensive than AG dolls, but still pricey, at between $70 and $90. Unfortunately, the all-vinyl body makes these dolls thinner than others, so their clothes are not compatible. But the clothing Carpatina offers is extraordinary in its detail and the variety of historical periods worldwide available. (Wouldn't you want to dress your doll like Guinevere or Marie Antoinette?)
  • Their Girlfriends Collection of clothes and accessories is made specifically to fit American Girl dolls. It also includes some lovely historical outifts (e.g., French princess, Spanish princess, bustle-back gown), a section of Asian wear (saris, kimonos, even Korean hanbok!), and contemporary outfits and accessories. Some of the outfits are more detailed and therefore more expensive, but where else can you find a first communion outfit for your daughter's doll?

Carpatina also makes two boy dolls which are somewhat less successful in the facial features department, in my opinion. But if you have a son who's jealous of his sister's doll, this one is good to consider. He has several outfits available, including a knight and Robin Hood.

Madame Alexander Dolls

Madame Alexander dolls have the longest history among doll companies for girls today. The company was founded in 1923, and was the first to base dolls on licensed characters from movies and books. They also developed the ubiquitous "sleep" eyes that open and shut.

You may think of Madame Alexander dolls as fancy collectibles, but that's no longer strictly the case. I vividly remember my next-door neighbor when I was a child telling me about the dolls her mom had that she wasn't allowed to play with. "They're Madame Alexander dolls!" she said in a reverent voice, and indeed the dolls were all tucked away in glass cases to keep the dust off.

Today, Madame Alexander has several lines: gorgeous (and expensive!) collectible dolls, a baby doll line for toddlers, and a line of 18-inch dolls for children's play. The Favorite Friends line is the equivalent of the American Girl dolls, with 18-inch vinyl and cloth bodies, cute outfits and accessories. The dolls retail for between $40 and $50 apiece, which is half of the cost of an AG doll, but nearly twice what the OG dolls cost at Target. They are well made and durable, and have accessories such as MP3 players and glasses available.

The main drawbacks are that these dolls are only contemporary, and do not have their own stories or books. If your daughter loves history or is a huge reader, these may not be the right dolls for her. But if she treats her doll as a contemporary, one of these will hold up well.

Handmade Doll Clothes

My mom made this prairie dress for my daughter's American Girl doll with scraps left over from a larger project.
My mom made this prairie dress for my daughter's American Girl doll with scraps left over from a larger project. | Source

18-Inch Dolls on a Budget

These dolls can be very pricey, especially if you buy all the branded merchandise, such as clothes, accessories, and furniture. But there are ways to give the special girl in your life a doll that will make her happy, at a price that will make you happy.

  • Option #1: Buy your daughter's favorite American Girl doll, but no extras (other than books). Supplement with Our Generation furniture from Target, and order off-brand doll clothes through Amazon, where you can get them cheaper.
  • Option #2: Buy an inexpensive Our Generation doll that resembles your daughter's favorite American Girl character, if she has one. Buy an official outfit from the AG website, so that your daughter can dress her doll up as her favorite character any time she wants.
  • Option #3: Find a used doll in good condition (either as a hand-me-down or on eBay) and make her beautiful again. Then use your crafty skills and sew outfits using free or inexpensive patterns, available online. Contemporary outfits as well as outfits from many different historical periods are available, so your daughter will have a wide range to choose from. You can make simple furniture as well, if you've got basic tools around the house. Have fun with it together!


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