Just to be clear, I think Marie-Grace and Cécile were the biggest flops ever released by American Girl (in the historical collection at least-they have some competition in the GOTY line). This wasn't an inherent flaw of either doll or character. Rather it was because American Girl refused to really commit to releasing a second African American doll. Instead they paired her with a white cohort. Instead of having Marie-Grace be a secondary Best Friend like Nellie or Ivy, Marie-Grace and Cécile shared the collection equally. The six book series was basically cut in two, with each doll receiving half the series.
This was unfortunate because it really meant that you had no time to really get to know either character. Both girls as characters remain very forgettable in my mind. Focusing on Cécile and leaving Marie-Grace as a Best Friend (or just not having her at all) would have been a much better plan. The illustrations were not my cup of tea either-I think Cécile especially looks horrible in the pictures. Marie-Grace often looks oddly placed.
In addition, both girls received rather small wardrobes compared to other historical characters (they each had 5 outfits including their meets and shared a hideous blue puffy outfit monstrosity). This is an excellent example of doing something half way, seeing that it produced poor results, and then deciding to never do it again because clearly it won't work. This has been American Girl's attitude towards DOC in general, though I have hope for Melody. They seem to be trying to give her the same publicity that they gave Maryellen and Samantha.
However, I will say this. Despite the failures in the books and in the collections, the dolls are lovely. Cécile has the loveliest hair and eyes. Marie-Grace's face is just so delicate and lovely. Despite my distaste for some of their outfits, I do truly adore the outfits that I like. I really like the fashions from this time period (1853 and since they're in New Orleans, that counts IMO as the Antebellum South, though some do not consider New Orleans part of the South) but I never thought AG would ever release a wealthy doll to wear the lovely clothes from this period and place. Because, hello, offensive.
But Cécile made it possible. She is a free person of color living in New Orleans. She's rich. Of course she'll wear the fancy clothes! (Marie-Grace also wears fancy clothes despite allegedly not being as wealthy-her summer gown certainly looks pretty fancy to me.)
Also I love that there was a pretty, pretty princess African American doll. I prefer Addy over Cécile just like I prefer Kirsten over Samantha most days but you still need both pictures of life.
But today is also about Marie-Grace who is of course making her debut on this blog.
I think a lot of people find Marie-Grace unattractive-at least with the curls near her face. That's funny to me because I think she's among the most physically attractive of the dolls. But hey, whatever-people have different ideas of aesthetics. A lot of it is also that people see her as the reason for Cécile's failure, which is something that I have to agree with. However, that is not the fault of the doll or the fictional 9 year old but rather the fault of a company that refused to commit to a second African-American doll. Marie-Grace should never have existed but she does, and I do think she is a pretty doll.
Anyways, for my historical section today, I wanted to discuss whether New Orleans is a part of the South,
Is New Orleans Part of the South?
I believe that New Orleans was a part of the South...but my opinions are nuanced. My primary argument for saying yes is that New Orleans was actually the largest cotton and slave market in the entire south. For purposes of the Civil War, that meant that New Orleans was always going to take the part of the Confederacy. Too much of her economy was tied up with the success of the South.
Canal Street in 1857
However, there are some cultural differences and I think these can be traced back to the difference between the countries that originally settled the 13 colonies and Louisiana.
The colonies were settled (yes, some like NY were settled by others but were eventually made to be extremely British in culture) largely by people from Britain. The British were Protestant (in fact these settlers were too Protestant for the Protestants which is why they had to come to America-an oversimplification that I still find amusing) and obviously spoke English, making that the dominant language. Moreover, they came from a land where there was already some experimentation with responsive government. Out of all the major European powers, England had the most powerful legislative body.
Compare this to New Orleans, which was mostly conquered by the French and Spanish-two countries that had little if any experience with constitutional monarchy (a big factor in my opinion in the difference in violence levels between the French and American Revolutions). I am less familiar with the history of Spain but France had basically an absolute monarchy. They were also Catholic and spoke different languages. There were plenty of different people living in the area from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds.
Because of this mix of people, there was a lot more room for social movement for free people of color in New Orleans than anywhere in the South (and possibly anywhere in the North). Despite this, slavery was still a factor because New Orleans had a much stronger sense of an "elite" than the North did-or at least a much more open one.
While the North held European customs and European festiveness in high suspicion (remember, their ancestors were Puritans who disapproved of dancing and card playing), New Orleans was a place where there were parades and parties and festivals. New Orleans was a more European city than, say, New York City. For a while, more Europeans came to live in the city than Americans from the rest of the country (and yes, I mean after Louisiana was purchased by the U.S.).
But I'm going to make an unpopular statement and say that that actually makes New Orleans more like the South than the North. The South was nothing if not an elite aristocracy made up largely of a few different groups-rich white people with power, poor white people without it, and slaves. While New Orleans definitely had free people of color with power, making it different than the South and the North, there was not the same strong middle class that was forming in the North. There was more of a culture of leisure for the rich in New Orleans (and the South and in continental Europe) than there was for the newly wealthy bourgeois class in the North, something that would come to haunt the South when the North had factories and they did not.
I guess, if I had to choose, I would have chosen to be a free person of color in New Orleans than in any other city in the United States. But if I had little money, I would have taken myself to NYC.
In the end, maybe New Orleans is just a unique place, a historical anomaly in the United States because of the distinct mix of cultures and influences that gathered there. But for my purposes, keep in mind that New Orleans was a part of the Confederacy and was a city in a slave holding state. So...a conditional yes. And that is why, in future blog posts, these girls will largely be my entry to discuss things happening in the Southern states at this time.
Marie-Grace's Skirt Set
Marie-Grace is going first because she has never really had a review on this blog. She is wearing her skirt set, an item that came out in 2011 and retailed for $28. The outfit had two components-a jacket and a skirt.
The entire set is a very light sky blue that looks wonderful on Marie-Grace (it also looks very nice on Cécile-I operate under the principle that clothes and dolls do not time travel, but friends can and do share). The fabric has a subtle white and green floral and vine pattern that does not overwhelm the dominant blue.
The jacket that she wears is of the same fabric. It has a white collar, three grosgrain bows going down the front, blue ruffles to trim both the sleeves and the hemline, and a peplum cut.
You can see the rounded collar here-it is sort of reminiscent of a Peter Pan collar but of course would most certainly not have been called that because Peter Pan was not written until 1904. The collar is a very crisp white that accentuates the blue.
Here are the bows-they are very closely matched with the ruffles on the hem and the sleeves. Ruffles were a very big thing in 1853 fashion, though they often came in tiers of three. Still, Marie-Grace was not the wealthiest person and this strikes me as more of an informal, casual outfit so the single tier doesn't bother me.
As you can see, there is a white trim above the blue ruffle. Like I said, single ruffle.
I wanted to call particular attention to the cut of the jacket. This is a peplum jacket. Peplum is when the jacket or skirt has a flare to create a hanging flounce.
Image from the 1850s of a woman wearing a peplum jacket.
I have included a photo above to show a woman wearing something similar to what Marie-Grace is wearing. That part of the outfit is historically accurate.
As you can see (yes, I repeated the top photo to make my point), Marie-Grace's top is accurate. So not only does it get points for being a lovely garment, it also gets points for being pretty accurate to the time period.
The skirt is just a simple calf length skirt that would have been appropriate to her age. It is of the same fabric as the jacket. It is meant to be a full skirt and would likely look a lot better with a crinoline and chemise under it, but I haven't purchased one yet. I need to get on that next time I go to the AG store or order something online. They should both be wearing one-women loved wearing hoops because previously they had worn much heavier undergarments that weighed them down considerably and had to be washed all the time. Dresses became extremely wide.
(And by the way for anyone wondering-yes, it is accurate for that to now be in Addy's collection. Many women of various social classes wore hoops. The few exceptions would have been people doing intense physical labor such as working in the fields. So while she would not have worn them as a slave, she could have worn them once she won her freedom. However, the NOLA girls would have worn round hoops and oval hoops became popular by 1864. So actually semi-accurate.)
There's a close up of the fabric. I love the pattern!
My only complaint for this set is that it doesn't have a hat. If you look at the historical pictures that I included in this post, all of the women are wearing hats. The little girl is not wearing one but she has one in her hand.
Pinterest, hat from the period.
Hats are amazing anyway and I wish we still wore them. If this set had truly been historically accurate, Marie-Grace would have gotten a hat with this. It probably would have raised the price to $34 but I would have been willing to pay for it if the set had included a hat.
However, they certainly get points for using a peplum cut on the jacket.
Cécile's Parlor Outfit
Cécile is modeling her parlor outfit for this review. This set also came out in 2011 and retailed for $28. However, the set had more components-a skirt, blouse, jacket, and two hair ribbons.
The blouse is a plain white long sleeved shirt with the same kind of rounded collar seen on Marie-Grace's jacket. The sleeves are full with cuffs at the wrist. The blouse is pretty but certainly not fancy enough to be worn alone on Mademoiselle Cécile. However, because of the versatility, she can likely wear this with many outfits, all the outfits American Girl should have made her but didn't.
She is wearing the necklace that came with her meet outfit.
Since it isn't fancy enough for the parlor, she tops it with a gold taffeta jacket. Taffeta of course is a high end fabric that is notable for maintaining its shape. Thin, sheer taffetas-like the one used in Cécile's jacket-are actually known as paper taffeta.
As I said, it is paper taffeta. It is so sheer that you can make out the crisp white blouse underneath the fabric. The gold is trimmed with purple ruched ribbon trim. The jacket closes with four "buttons." The buttons are not real however-those two strips are actually straps that close with the uber convenient Velcro.
The jacket is short sleeves so you can see the white blouse underneath. Make sure that the collar of the blouse peaks over the jacket.
I certainly like the style of this outfit but that gold color is a little off putting to me when combined with the purple.
The skirt, on the other hand, is a much nicer color IMO. Again, it is calf length-the correct length on someone of Cécile's age. The purple is set off with a golden four leaf clover pattern. Again, though, this skirt would have looked a lot nicer if I had purchased the crinoline and chemise. Once I buy them, I will likely add some updated photos to this post so you can see what it looks like.
Yeah, I didn't use them. These white ribbons have been in her hair for a while. I think she has very pretty hair but I doubt I would ever be able to recreate her hair style once it was messed up. I got Cécile on the second hand market because I bought Ivy over the others in the frenzy once the retirement announcement came and I had to pay a premium for one with untouched hair. Therefore I try to never mess with it, not even to change out the ribbons. White goes with most things anyway. But the set included two purple hair ribbons for braver souls.
Again, every time I look at a set for one of these dolls, I can't help but thinking of what could have been if American Girl had cared at all about their collections.
Once again, no hat.
1850s hats in England because hats are fun to look at.
I'm a little more forgiving of that because, after all, this is clearly an indoor outfit for her, but a hat would have made it a transitional outfit. She has like two hats in her collection (meet and summer outfit) and she clearly should have had a lot more. Samantha had so many hats. The pretty princess African American doll should have had some hats.
A shawl might also have worked. Shawls were popular outer garments because they were one of the few garments that could cover the ever widening hoops that women favored and because they were functional and looked nice spread out like that.
1800s shawl, Pinterest
I'm also not a fan of the jacket because of the color scheme though I am not sure what I would replace it with. The colors do look nice on Cécile despite the way it hurts my eyes. However, this set does not look so nice on Marie-Grace-this isn't as interchangeable as the skirt set.
I guess I prefer the skirt set over the parlor set but they both have good points.