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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Historical Clothes Reviews: Samantha's Cranberry Party Dress and LE Mini Doll

Holiday Party Time with Tara Johnson!
Holy Baby Mithras, it's a week til Giftmas. Last minute purchases abound. If you haven't ordered it online, it's not going to get there before the holidays unless you rush that shipping.1 If you haven't got it in the store, you might not get it cause the shelf could be cleared out. And if you didn't get Molly and Emily before they sold out, then hie your ass to eBay cause they're gone, and their stuff with em. Play Taps, y'all. This is why, if you are sensible like me, you make all of December and the first two weeks in January extended holiday gifting, so that if things don't get there day of, everything isn't spoiled.

As I said in my complaint department about Molly and Emily heading out the door, while they won't be available from AG direct there's ways of getting your hands on stuff post retirement. Molly's second ed Floral PJs and Yellow Bed might be a little harder since they were only out for a year. But the stuff that had been out since 1986? Take your time, you'll find a bargain. I got a lot of the Samantha stuff I have for my gang post retirement. Like today's review.

The Cranberry Party Dress --also known as Samantha's Christmas Dress--was released with Samantha Parkington back when she was released in 1986 along with her meet stuff, school dress and supplies2, and extra holiday gear--all fresh and new for 1986, ready to become the icon of American Girl for the next decade and a half. The outfit came with a red slightly high waist (for the fashion) dress with lace trim, ribbed white tights, and one of Samantha's signature ribbons to tie enormously into her hair--this one white with v-cut ends. Purchasers were expected to use Samantha's meet shoes with the set. When Mattel took over, they changed the ribbed thicker tights to thinner, white generic AG tights. The original cost of the dress was $20; as inflation costs rose, the dress went up to $22 before being retired in 2008 with Samantha's archival. I got the dress--a PC version--in Spring 2009 in a private sale from a friend. I think it was about $20 for the dress alone. I originally had plain white tights from buying Samantha's Shoes and Socks set, but at some point I got the ribbed white tights from a private gift before I was message board destroyed. The shoes came with Tara--our model--back when she first arrived, and the hairbow is my own doing, a long length of wide white ribbon cut just so. On eBay prices range from $10 to well over $50, though the average selling price is about what it was for retail with maybe $5 over. 

A bit more about Tara: Tara Johnson was sent to me by a buddy as a gift back in September 2009 to join the gang. She arrived in a homemade dress, with Samantha's meet shoes, black stockings, and bloomers, with her hair in four awesome hair wraps and needing a set of glasses and a good bath. And while she does look like a PC Samantha, she will adamantly inform you that she, madam or sir or miscter3 or neither, that she is not Samantha. She almost didn't put this dress on, in case anyone wanted to get bright ideas about calling her so. But when I explained that it wasn't fair for Marisol to have to do three clothes changes for the holidays--Marisol being my go-to-model for Edwardian and Titanic Era wear--she grudgingly said she'd put the set on. But she will only wear Edwardian clothing if she doesn't take off her glasses, lest you mistake her for anyone but her nerdy, steampunky self.

Do note that there will be two tights reviews, along with the bonus of Samantha's bloomers, meet shoes, and the LE Mini Doll. And that most of the pictures are taken with the plainer tights. Damn it, Samantha.

Fancy girly dress.
Dress: The dress--par for the course for Samantha--is fancy: cranberry taffeta with a white lace collar and white waist ribbon trim. When one is a rich Edwardian beauty, one wears the fanciest of clothing, and Samantha wore the fanciest of clothing. This is why she gets the nickname Pretty Princess 'Mantha from me. This is actually one of her less frilly sets. Wait til I review that Tea Dress. Originally, the dress was a very bright red color; this was muted to a more proper maroon color later on, but then got brighter again.

Collar. So many variations of this damn thing.
The bodice is semi plain and high necked. Since Molly, Samantha, and Kirsten all originally were white bodied dolls--that is, white muslin cloth bodies instead of a skin tone--their clothes covered their bodies up to the neck, as was the fashion of the time. Like wearing an onion on your belt [/Grandpa Simpson]. The top front of the dress has white lace overlay along with lace epaulette trim that drapes a little over the sleeves. Samantha's dress had lots of lace variations. There are, last I checked, at least three variations of the lace used on the dress. Mine has flowers in mesh with light stems and a scalloped edge. Some of the first editions had heart imprinted lace until about 1988. I don't even give a fuck about hunting down variations of one dress. Damn it Samantha, one copy is enough.

Poof the sleeves before baking.
The sleeves are slightly puffy and go down to the wrist. The early 1900s was all about the puffiest of sleeves--not as bad as the leg-of-mutton style for adults, but pretty puffy.

The sleeve is gathered to a cuff that closes with velcro.

The dress has a low waist, but not as low as it could be. The general fashion was a lower waist; this one is long but not as low as most drop waist skirts.

At the waist is white satin ribbon with a loop edge tacked down on the bottom edge only. on the right side is a separately made bow of the same ribbon, sewn into place. Mine is being floppy and won't look neat like it should. 

The skirt comes down to below the knees. This is shorter than prior eras of fashion, where a girl of about 10 would wear a skirt to at least the calves, and the skirt would drop a little closer to the floor as they aged until it was all the way there. There's no lace or trim, which is unique in itself; the Edwardian era was known for putting way too much lace and ruffles on everything. However, I'm glad this dress doesn't have all that fuss.

Back on.
The back of the dress doesn't have lace on the bodice but does have it on the collar and the waist sash goes all the way around to the closure on the back. B+.  Lace on the back would have been nice, but the color is lovely and the dress is not overly fussy or messy. I really don't like lace vomit on a dress.

Puffy poofy panties.
Bloomers: Bonus review of Samantha's bloomers. Samantha came with white puffy bloomer style panties.4 These are a style that carried forward in one way or another for years. Not just for girls either; women's underwear, when they wore them, were also poofy and lacy and stuck out. It wasn't until about the 70s that we got tight, sleek underwear that would fit nicely under pants. But women weren't supposed to be wearing pants anyways, those harlots. I actually adore Samantha's panties--Victorian and Edwardian bloomers are so damn pretty. Fun fact: Samantha, Nellie, Rebecca, Kit, Ruthie, Emily, and Molly all had the same style of panties. When Tara or Marisol ever wear them I put them on over their modern panties most of the time. A. What can I say. They're cute!

Tights, version one.
Tights: There were two variations on the tights, which go under Samantha's panties. Samantha would have never gone anywhere without some sort of sock or stockings. She was a lady, mind you, even if she didn't always want to be. Historically, Samantha would have worn stockings with garters and worn her panties over the garters so that she wouldn't have to take her stockings off to attend to the lavatory, but these are dolls. So tights. The PC version of tights are thick ribbed tights because winter in New York in the 1900s needed you to stay warm, lest you die of cold. Mine actually have an annoyingly loose waist that has lost any elastic if they ever had it. I do love the texture though; they feel like they would keep Samantha warm and feel nice under my fingers.

Tights, Version two.
The second ed by Mattel are generic white tights--though thicker than most modern tights, at least. The elastic at the waist also is really nice, and the tights stay up without panty support. A- for first ed, B+ for second ed.

Shoes. *annoyed sigh*
Shoes: When AG launched back in 1986, there was no guarantee that these dolls were going to take off like they did. So AG did generic black plastic shoes for Samantha and Molly. Kirsten, since she would not have worn Mary Janes, got away with a pair of brown soft boots even if she got stuck with bangs. Samantha came with these generic shoes for her entire release.

And they are hideous. They're one piece plastic black Mary Janes with a molded edge that look and feel like cheap doll shoes. I hate them, but I keep them because I am a completeist. Generally, if someone around here is Edwardianing it up, I put them in Samantha's extra shoes, which will be seen later.

One, Two, Don't Buckle a Shoe.
The shoes don't buckle or open in any way. Instead, there's a molded side buckle. Around the entire edge of the shoe is a ridged edge, which so does not help the "these look like doll shoes" feeling.

The shoes are simply molded vinyl. No craft at all.

Flat like bad singing.
The bottoms are flat, with no heel or variation. And the sticker? Says they're PC shoes. Ngghh. Why did they never give Samantha and Molly nice meet shoes ever? You had to buy them separate, and they always came with these plastic fuckers.  Nostalgia was no reason to let this transgression go on. D-. They're not an F because they don't fail at existence totally, but they get really close.

Mini Princess 'Mantha.
Mini Doll: Samantha--being the glory hog of AG--was the first released LE mini doll in 2011, coming out with a mini copy of Samantha's Surprise and going off the docket by the end of the year. I bought her at AG place for the given mini-price of $24. She almost never shows up on eBay--most people who got the minis got them to keep--but when she does, she's only about 30 bucks. She's got the same style dress, of course--even the same color--but with a few tweaks. For one, the lace is smaller.

Rather than a huge satin bow, she's given a bow much like the trim at the waist; satin with loop edging.

No panties.
And no bloomers--just her tights. I actually do like mini-Samantha, and the dress works out nicely, so I'll give her an A. She might be worth a pick up on eBay, but only at sensible prices. Never pay more than 10 bucks above face for a mini doll.


Time to put this shit in series perspective. Samantha is in her Cranberry Dress on the first and second edition covers of Samantha's Surprise. (Third ed just shows her staring through the shop window with Ida Dean.) I actually like the second ed covers best, though I own the first ed. While Addy's re-illustrations annoy me for many reasons, Samantha's made her look less blotchy in some ways. So it's some give and take. She's not actually getting the dress to wear to Christmas majorly; it's to wear to Ida Dean's holiday party on the 23rd, but then Cornelia shows up and Samantha gets very out of sorts because the whole household makes the world rotate around her being there and super formal and she can't go to the party, and then Cornelia takes the edge off by not being an uppity lady.

The first illustration shows Samantha trying on her dress with the family seamstress Jessie noting that, because girls grow, she's going to have to let the hem down again. Damn it Samantha. Why the image was illustrated with Elsa the maid in the background being a total bitch about Samantha changing clothes, I don't even fucking know. The dress is really bright red here, with the heart lace that was later phased out. She's also wearing high button shoes.

This was later re-illustrated to show Samantha looking at her pretty dress in the mirror as Jessie adjusts the hem. The top is in the blouson style, which was poofy and puffy and oh so fashions. The actual dress is not nearly as puffy. Note that the back of  the dress in illustrations has the collar lace go to the back. She's also seen wearing the dress on Christmas Eve when they all sing carols, but that's enough book.

And then they photoshopped right over her holiday dress to "illustrate" her movie style bridesmaid dress in Samantha's Wedding Memories, making it longer and lavender. American Girl: We Know Photoshop. 

And it's in her paper doll sets--the first three editions. Not the Play Scenes and Settings set. What the fuck's up with that, AG, Nellie gets hers but no Samantha. Note that the fancy collar is detachable in the paper doll set, as it likely would have been historically.

It was available as the "Victorian Party Dress" for $110 for a while. Ugh it's Edwardian, AG get your shit together. Instead of white waist ribbon you got a big old rosette on the left side. Fancy pantsy.5

You could also make your own version with Samantha's Patterns--of which I own an authentic, non scanned set and have used to do some crafting. (GASP I CUTTED THEM UP.) I'm actually going to tweak it into an 80s dress soon. Note that I can't remember if it was seen in the movie and I don't want to dig my copy out right now. If it is, tell me.


Overall Feel: The dress could have been a lot worse, given the overt ruffles and lace of the era. The fact that it's simple and rich looking in its simplicity makes it a treasure. The lace collar--while not removable and only on the front--adds a touch of feminine grace, and the deep cranberry color is holiday enough and a nice historical color. The tights--both versions--are good compliments to the dress. While I like the texture of the first ed ones more, I like the waist working more on the second set. The shoes--the meet ones--can seriously fuck off, and as much as I don't care for Samantha, she deserved better shoes before being stuffed into the AG vault. In semi-related notes on meet components, eee puffy panties~

Cost Value:
$20 and $22 (with inflation) dollars is all right. Since the outfit can't be grabbed from AG anymore and hasn't been for five years, you have to go to eBay or private sales to get the set. Still, take into account that it was out for 20 years. There's tons of em, even without tights and ribbons--and you can get any old set of white tights and ribbon. It might be a hunt if you want the ribbed tights authentically, but really, you don't have to have them. Some people will ask for $50 or more for the dress alone. Tell them to go fuck themselves. Same with the Mini doll-never more than $10 over original face. There are children younger than the dress. There are 20 year old people younger than the dress. There are many to get. Take your time. You might even be able to get the lace variation you want if you're crazy like that.

Ooo, honey yes. The waist could be a little lower, but not every dress in the 1900s was drop waist any more than all hair in the 80s was rooster bangs and big, despite what the bad pictures may show you. Also, it's so nicely Edwardian, the puffy sleeves especially. And yes, I mean Edwardian. Victorian is the period before Samantha and is more applicable to, at best, her very young childhood.6

Appropriateness to Character:
Very appropriate to Samantha--it stayed around as long as she did, right up to the last minute practically, and was her go to holiday dress to the point that she was seen in it everywhere for the holidays. She had it made for her by the family seamstress, as was the way of the rich. Around here it mostly goes on Marisol--she's the one who loves the era--but Tara gave it a chance and liked it, so it's got charm. Even on the small scale. She would probably appreciate a steampunked version.
Final Grade:
A-. It's a lovely dress, and not too frilly like most of Pretty Princess 'Mantha's stuff. Just wait. Some of her stuff I have is a mess to me.


1 Did that one year, to get something the day after I ordered it because a tarot deck hit me hard and I needed the cards to read. I don't like doing it. It costs too much. In that case it was only 11 bucks, but still.
2 But no desk yet. That wasn't til 1990 for the first three.
3 Gender neutral title, shortens to Mx.
4 There are some people who abhor the word panties. I don't get it. I love the word. Panties, panties, panties~!
5 Not Fancy Nancy. I'm too old and don't have any kids at present, so I don't understand the appeal of those books. 
6 Yes, that will be a complaint department.


  1. PANTIEEEEEES!! Yup. I like that word too.

    Also, I like Tara. She's awesome. I'd like to see a steampunk version of this dress too.

    Taaara! Why you so cool?

  2. I'd buy all that you said about the dress' waist being a fine height if the original book illustration didn't portray it with a slightly dropped waist.
    They really were just trying to make it more appealing to girls by making it more modern-ish, I'll bet.
    I understand that's just business, but would have preferred a drop waist. I'm a little outside their target age though. :)

    Those shoes are a bitch to get on and off too. I know you know, just wanted it stated again.

    And those


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