Sunday, August 30, 2015

Product Review: Samantha's Buster Brown Dress

Brace Yourselves: The School Year is Starting....

The school year has begun, and kids are heading back to class! Not me-my school days are done, at least for now. I might go back and get a graduate degree once military life is over and my husband gets his degree (so at least another 5 years). Still, I loved that time of year-new clothes in attractive fall styles, brand new school supplies with cute animals on the covers of my notebook, the chance to see my friends again after a long summer. But for now, I am no longer a student.

But that does not stop my dolls from getting ready for school! Oh no-all the dolls that have school outfits must put them on this month. As I was dressing them, I thought about which of the dolls gets the most attention on this blog-only 4 dolls have had a product review. Those dolls are Josefina, Kirsten, Caroline, and Rebecca. I felt kinda bad, in much the same way that a child feels bad when they pay too much attention to one stuffed animal or doll and then neglects the others. I need to rectify that, and I'm going to start with my original girls. So come on down, Samantha, and show us how you go back to school!

Samantha of course came out in 1986 and this was one of the first items that came out with her. The set is simple, and it only has two items (the dress itself and a black hair ribbon). The dress didn't retire until 2008, meaning it was on the market for over two decades. I say that because it means you should be able to get it for a reasonable price on eBay-I wouldn't pay more than $35-40 for a complete set. You can see that she wore this dress on the cover of her second book. It also features prominently in the illustrations. Samantha wore this to her private girl's academy, where she learned how to be a young lady.

I choose this outfit for Samantha for two reasons. The first is that I love it. I don't mind frou-frou outfits and I am very girly. But Samantha's collection is getting a bit too girly for my taste, and it wasn't always For example, her original meet was a lot less frilly than the new one. Her original coat set too. It is all becoming, in my opinion, too much. This outfit is a nice grey.

The second reason is because this is my favorite Samantha book, because of the way Samantha helps Nellie. I know that Samantha has a privileged life, and that can be annoying. But people can't help it if they're born rich. It's what they do with the privileges they're given that matters to me, and Samantha is a good friend to Nellie, one of the best in the entire collection [1]. Also Samantha knows how to accept when she is wrong and change her viewpoints accordingly. Do you know how few adults have mastered that skill? And she's 9. That makes her worthy of praise in my book.

Anyways, here's the review!

Here is the dress-it is a grey flannel material, which would hopefully keep Samantha warm in the chilly New York autumn. The fabric feels really sturdy and nice. The grey is a good color, since this dress would be worn often, and the grey would hide dinginess very well. I remember reading that, back in the Victorian and Edwardian era, people wore a lot of black and grey because gas lighting made everything filthy, and the more somber colors disguised that well.

Anyways, one of the main issues I have with people studying the past is they seem to believe that no one before the current era was concerned with hygiene. I recently read a really interesting book called Inside the Victorian Home (yes, I know it's a bit early for Samantha, but some of the principles probably still apply, and yes it also was more focused on England, but still) which explained the life of the middle class Victorian woman by going about the various functions of each room in the house. Those people worked hard to keep their homes clean-or at least, they paid servants to do so. It was just harder, since they didn't have the modern implements that we do.

The poor tried as well, but many of them did not have running water, or at least reliable running water. Imagine running up and down stairs with buckets of water, heating the water because you can't bathe in cold water in the winter, pouring them into a hip bath, bathing, drying, dressing, and then carting all of the water, bucket by bucket, back down the stairs because of course there is no drain. I guess you could also just toss the water out the window. Still, very time consuming, after coming home from a hard day of work, taking care of children, cooking (remember to haul water up for cooking too!), etc. Is it any wonder they bathed less? The rich did so because they had servants and regularly supplied running water.  Anyways, done with that tangent. Back to our review.

The grey is top stitched in white, which gives it a crisp look.

If you look at the bodice, there are two rows of white buttons down the front. These buttons are non functional but they really help the neutral color scheme and add a pretty little detail. The other detail is the little black bow tie at the top. Above it is a white collar. I like how that makes the dress look like a uniform (which I suppose it is-a school uniform). There is something charmingly utilitarian about the entire outfit.
The waist is dropped, as are most of the bodices on Samantha's clothes from the beginning collection. That was a style trend from that decade.
The skirt is pleated-I feel bad for whoever had to do the ironing in a house full of pleated skirts. It is time consuming to get a razor sharp pleat with an iron.
The full sleeves have a slight puff, and end in a white cuff. The sleeves have openings that close with Velcro to get those inflexible doll hands through. Those are the bane of my existence, especially when you're trying to put the gloves on a doll hand. The only thing worse is a pair of really fitted doll shoes. So I'm glad American Girl took mercy and gave us the Velcro closures. It also, like most of the clothes, has a Velcro down the back to get the dress on and off.
The outfit also came with a black hair ribbon, but the set I bought off eBay didn't come with the ribbon, and I refuse to pay eBay prices (probably at least $10-15) for a piece of fabric. I'll take my butt up to Joann's if it starts to bother me too much. Don't make my mistake though and buy a set without the ribbon, unless it is really cheap.
I added this picture so you could see her pretty decal brown eyes-they're unique to the AG world.
There's Samantha sitting on my shelf, all ready for school! You pair the dress with her tights and shoes from the meet outfit. Do not pair this outfit with white tights-she'd get them dirty at school. She's hanging out with Nellie and Addy.
Now for the history of the dress. The outfit is called the Buster Brown dress. When I initially found that out, I thought it was so weird. The dress isn't brown, after all. So why Buster Brown?
Buster Brown is actually the name of a popular comic strip character who debuted in 1902 in the New York Herald. Buster was known for playing practical jokes on people that he never repented from. He often spouted a moral that had absolutely nothing to do with what he got into trouble for.

Anyways, he was very popular and eventually appeared in other media (the stage, TV, radio, and even movies). Clothes inspired by his look became popular. You can see the cuffed white sleeves and white collar with a black bow tie (though his is distinctly exaggerated), along with a dropped waist.

You can see the style there as well. Again, white cuff and collar, dropped waist, black bow tie.

That is where the name of Samantha's school outfit came from.

So there you have it. Samantha's outfit is cute and stylish, not frou-frou, and is clearly historically accurate and well researched. Hopefully, I'll feel like doing one of Molly's outfits soon. It'd be great to do her Halloween Hula costume for next month, but I'm afraid I don't have that one. We'll see!

[1] What other good friends do we have? Kaya is a good friend, but she ends up getting her blind sister captured because of her recklessness. Felicity and Elizabeth are probably the closest after Samantha and Nellie. Caroline can be a brat to her friends, trying to get them to skate when they're afraid of skating. Josefina's friendships don't feature prominently in the books, and all of Kirsten's friends die or leave forever-she doesn't get much of a chance to show how good a friend she can be. Marie-Grace and Cecile's friendship never struck me as particularly close (sorry, but it didn't). Addy, though I love her, was so caught up with Harriet's glamor that she sort of forgot Sarah for a bit, something Samantha never does in the series with Nellie (possibly because Samantha was born with glamor and Addy wasn't, so it means less to her to be fair). Rebecca's a good cousin, but again, friendship isn't the main point, and if I remember correctly, she was embarrassed of Ana. Kit and Ruthie argued a lot. Molly was a jerk 90% of the time, including to Emily. Julie and Ivy were also close, right up there with Samantha and Nellie, and if anything, Ivy was the jerk. But still, Samantha and Nellie and Felicity and Elizabeth. I also know everyone ships Felicity and Elizabeth, but I don't (Felicity and Ben). As my "where would they be?" showed, I ship Sam and Nellie.


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