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Alternatives to 18 Inch American Girl Dolls

Updated on August 20, 2014

Dolls That Meet Play Needs... and Budgets

Part of the message of American Girl is that maturity is about values -- industriousness, compassion -- and not about make up and heels. Part of the message is that girls can be competent and smart (and pretty) no matter what their ethnicity or socioeconomic background. And part of the message is that it's valuable to read history. What is there not to like?

Well, there's the price, for one thing. The dolls portray girls from all backgrounds, but they are priced out of the reach of girls from a lot of backgrounds. My elder niece has an American Girl -- one! -- because it's what she most wanted as a Christmas present. She's in her second year with that doll, and I would say it's a good investment. It didn't break the bank. But I know for a lot of people, even one doll is not an option. And those who can afford the price tag sometimes want to bypass the Mattel consumer culture, especially if they have little girls who are too young to read the books and whose wants tend to reflect older relatives... or the TV set.

Fortunately there are a lot of alternatives. If the goal is an 18 inch companion doll who can hang out with friend's dolls, that's pretty easy. If the goal is a historical doll or storybook accompaniment, it's a little trickier. There are a lot of clothing/ costuming options, though there aren't a lot of dolls designed to go with historical series. If a girl is really into the stories -- if she knows Rebecca and Cecile by name -- I suggest American Girl paper dolls or mini dolls.

Image: KidKraft Doll, Amazon

Quality Considerations

AG is not the only maker of high end play dolls. But dolls that are priced at one-quarter or one-half the price are generally not the same quality-wise.

One often cited problem with cheap 18-inch dolls is the hair. If you go for a cheap doll, you either accept that they'll get the frizzies or work hard to prevent it. Some parent have opted to keep the hair in ponytails or braids so that it stays in condition. Some girls -- especially older ones -- are easy on hair or good at caring for it.

Durability can also be an issue. AG has a doll hospital. So do some other high end doll companies. Madame Alexander, whose 18-inch play dolls retail for about half that of AG, has a doll hospital and is able to fix some dolls that are not made by Madame Alexander.

With a cheap doll, the cost of repairs could be higher than the cost of the doll, If the child loves the doll, it may be doable. But it's something else to take into account when considering what's appropriate to pay for a doll, and under what circumstances.

$20 or Less

Springfield 18 Inch Dolls - A General Purpose Play Doll

Springfield Dolls: Don't expect the same quality or durability as AG -- but do expect a doll that's of similar size who is huggable and whose eyes open and close. If a girl wants a little companion, this can be her companion. I had dolls of this quality when I was little. They saw a lot of play!

Some people have used 40% off coupons and gotten these dolls really cheap. (You won't necessarily find the full selection in craft stores, though. The last I knew, Joann's was carrying only the brunette, Emma, in their brick and mortar stores.)

Positively Perfect Doll - A Wal-Mart Option That Comes in Four Shades of Brown

American Girl 6 Inch Historical Dolls - For Girls Who Are Really Into the Stories

The mini dolls are high quality. Like the large dolls, they have soft bodies and realistic limbs. Their clothes go on and off easily -- the ones I got my nieces had Velcro closures.

Eyes are painted on. And don't necessarily expect to be able to style the hair -- details like bows glued on.

Image by the author

Mini Dolls from American Girl

Some of the mini dolls come in two editions: a standard edition and a 25th Anniversary Edition.

You can find any historical doll you like -- even those that were retired from the 18-inch doll line, like Scandinavian immigrant/ pioneer era doll Kirsten. Samantha and Molly, too, can be found! (I question whether American Girl retired them or just downsized.)

Clothes for 6 Inch Dolls

It's easy to dress and undress those six inch American Girl dolls. It's a bit harder to find clothes for them. There are options, though!

American Girl Paper Doll and Play Scenes

It's more than just dress up -- there are scenes and furniture in the new paper doll sets for the historical characters.

Approximately $20 - $35

Our Generation 18 Inch Dolls

Our Generation is a popular line of economy 18 inch dolls. The ethnic selection isn't as good as in some lines, but you will find an African American doll and a Hispanic doll.

These dolls come with a lot of modern day clothing and accessories. Even girls with American Girl dolls like to buy the Our Generation accessories because they are more affordable. (Our Generation is a Target brand, and you will generally get a better deal from Target. You can expect to pay about $32 for a deluxe set: poseable doll and accessories. Sales sometimes bring the price down slightly.)

What's with poseable and nonposeable? Well... I hear the former sit better on a horse. And the Our Generation line does indeed make horses.

What about hair? I have an older doll by Battat, the company that makes Our Generation, and I have to say, while she's a sweetheart, she is having a bad hair year. It takes some work not to get the frizzies.

Battat Doll and American Girl

Here is that older Battat doll posing next to an American Girl. The Battat doll has a paper crown because she is a princess. At least that's what my five-year-old niece says. The American Girl does not have a crown because she belongs to her older sister who is past the princess stage. Older girls have different ideas about dolls as well as doll clothes.

Kingstate Friends

Kingstate also makes a line of modestly priced 18-inch dolls. I see newer and older versions of the dolls advertised online. Some have rather old-fashioned garb. This little girl is just $30, though she appears to be from a recent line. She's one that I imagine would be embraced more readily by younger children. She's sweet, yes, with eyes that open and close, but having arms that are partly cloth, she doesn't look good in all styles of clothing.

KidKraft

You can also find KidKraft dolls going for about $40. Susan here is African American. There is also a blonde, a brunette, and a doll with auburn hair. I love the appearance of Susan's pink winter garb, but I am aware the quality is not American Girl. She is not designed for the hair stylists among us -- but isn't she sweet?

Magic Attic Doll

Magic Attic Doll
Magic Attic Doll

Hearts for Hearts 14-Inch Dolls

Play dolls smaller than eighteen inches are often marketed to younger girls. Hearts for Hearts is an exception; they are marketed to girls between six and twelve. The smaller size is a part of what keeps the price down. The dolls each have a story in diary form, but, unlike American Girl, the reading is done online.

There's a lot to like about this line. The dolls represent girls from around the world, and a percentage of the modest purchase price goes to help girls in need. Some dolls represent areas of America where needs are high. The doll pictured here is Lauryce from New Orleans. There is also Dell from Appalachia and Mosi, who is Native American.

The dolls are about fourteen inches. Be aware that they aren't scaled to fit in an American Girl world. The company has recently introduced more clothing for them, though, so they can be general purpose dolls.

These dolls have wonderful reviews.

Approximately $35 - $50

Adora 18 Inch Dolls

Adora is a quality doll maker. The newest line of multiethnic 18 inch dolls is "Adora Friends". There have also been some changes to the older lines, including the one that features dolls in licensed Girl Scout apparel.

You can still find the play dolls from earlier lines. Included are an African American doll and dolls that are (likely) Hispanic and Asian.

My Sibling 18 Inch Dolls

Here's one where you can feel good about the origins. My Pal dolls are dressed and packaged by individuals with disabilities as part of a work experience program. They are produced by the same company that makes My Sibling dolls. One difference is that the My Sibling dolls come with a story about being a sibling to someone with a disability like Down's Syndrome or autism; the My Pal dolls just include a themed booklet.

There are girl and boy My Pal dolls. There is some variation in hair and skin tone. I have seen a black doll (My Pal for Autism Awareness), but she is sold out. All available dolls look to be either white or Hispanic. There are some with medium brown skin, but none with dark skin or black hair.

My Pal also makes doll clothes to fit 18 inch dolls. Clothes generally read "made in the USA"; the same is not necessarily true of the dolls themselves. Clothes generally have simple designs. Be aware that not all 18 inch dolls have quite the same shape; clothing items won't always be a good fit. People often have luck mixing and matching clothing, though.

Madame Alexander 18 Inch Dolls

Madame Alexander offers mid-priced play dolls. There is a wide selection of styles, but dolls with darker skin tones make up a more limited part of the collection than they do in AG. The dolls have a lot of favorable reviews, though the hair quality is often critiqued.

if you head off to Amazon, you'll find a great review by a mom who handled four different American Girl alternatives and ultimately selected an AG doll for her older girl and a Madame Alexander for her younger girl.

Be My Girl

My Girl dolls remind me of Madame Alexander play dolls. There's a mixture of ethnicities represented in the line -- with hair ranging from pale blonde to black. The "Spring Fling" doll could easily be multiracial.

The "My Girl" dolls I am seeing online range from a little over $30 to about $50.

Over $50

Heidi Ott Doll

It's the eyes and the sweet expression that win me -- though the doll looks like she is wearing a pair of old pjs. This little girl is by Swiss doll maker Heidi Ott. Ott used to make lots of dolls that were scaled for play, but turned her attention to miniatures. This doll is labeled "last stock".She is getting closer in price to American Girl -- but not quite.

18 Inch Dolls: A Comparison

Here an adult collector shows off 18 inch dolls from different makers. One of the lines in her collection is Magic Attic. She notes that the dolls are no longer being made, but you can get them pretty easily off eBay. It's still true!

Local Options

You might try Craigslist if you're in a metropolitan area. I live in a major metropolitan area and found multiple 18 inch doll offers when I checked. The cheapest was an 18 inch Madame Alexander doll for $5.

Another thing that may be worth trying if you're strapped: Join Freecycle if there's one near you. Freecycle is also local. It's about people posting things that they have that they want to give away -- and things that they want that they are hoping to get free.

Let's Talk Dolls!

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    • shauna1934 profile image

      shauna1934 4 years ago

      Thank you for the information!! I will be using it this holiday season as my 6 year old circled the whole american doll book for her wishlist!! :) She says she wants a minimum of five!!! Maybe two are doable from another brand! :)

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 4 years ago

      Lots of parents will be thanking you for all this information, this Christmas!