Friday, March 11, 2016

Nellie's Irish Dance Outfit of Today

So here I am to continue my series on the Irish American experience and just in time for St. Patrick's Day.

To celebrate it, I've brought in my favorite Irish girl Nellie. She's wearing the Irish Dance Outfit of Today.

A few of the dolls received outfits "of today." In other words, they looked at the culture of the doll in question and then looked to see how that culture was celebrated today. They are basically all dance or celebration outfits. Addy received a hideous African Dance Outfit of Today. Nellie received this. Kaya has received several modern Pow Wow dance outfits because that is how she gets new outfit sets.

These sets make me a little uncomfortable because my dolls generally do not time travel. Nellie would never have worn something like this in 1904. But it came in a lot (I basically bought Nellie and all of her outfits in one go as part of a lot-there are some components missing from some of the outfits like her Celtic Cross necklace) so I'm going to go ahead and review it.

Obviously there will be history as well-there always is with me!

For those of you who missed my discussion of the conditions in Ireland that led to the Great Hunger, I've included a link to it so that you can catch up:

Nellie's Holiday Coat

At that link you'll find not only a review of the holiday coat set, you'll also find a historical explanation of what exactly was going on in Ireland that led to such a perfect storm. Because, yes, it was a perfect storm. I talked about how England made it virtually impossible to be a financially successful Catholic in Ireland and how this meant that the Irish did not own the land they were living on. I discussed how the Irish were given less than ideal land so the middlemen could use the land for grazing animals which produced more money. In response, they grew potatoes, a notoriously sturdy crop. There was no room to grow anything else.

And that of course means that, when the potato suffered disease, it was bad. Very, very bad.

The Great Hunger

It is commonly believed that the disease which caused the crop failure came from the United States to Europe-remember that potatoes are not actually native to Ireland. This wasn't even just a thing in Ireland. But other countries were better able to handle it because they were growing other crops. Ireland had millions of people that ate pretty much only potatoes.

When the first reports of it came in, it was unknown how bad it was. But in the first year alone, 1/3-1/2 of the crop was ruined. In 1846 it was even worse-3/4s of the crop was ruined. By that fall, the first deaths caused by starvation were recorded.

Irish leaders begged and worked in Parliament for a law to prevent exporting food from Ireland-the little corn that was raised, for example, was being loaded onto ships bound for England (remember that the Irish would have little control of this since they did not own the land). Britain believed in capitalism and believed that the market would stabilize and provide the food needed. They did not believe in interfering with the economy (a common belief-see my note below).

In fact, large amounts of grains were sent out of Ireland throughout the Great Hunger. But those were crops that the landlords (largely British) were raising for money, not for feeding the Irish. Therefore, they were exported while people died in the roads. Exports of livestock actually increased during the famine.

Therefore, they refused to stop the exporting of food out of Ireland. Charles Trevelyan, the British official in charge of public relief, refused to send much in the way of food aid because "the judgement of God sent the famine to teach the Irish a lesson."

Of course the Irish had another way of putting it. John Mitchell said, "God might have sent the blight, but the English sent the famine."

Eventually they did start giving out relief but anyone owning 1/4 of an acre of land was not eligible meaning that one had to give land to the British government if one wanted any food. They also tried getting the British landlords to deal with the issue but the landlord response to that was to just eject their tenants so they didn't have any responsibility. It just made things worse.


Obviously these conditions made life impossible. It is true that many Irish were already emigrating out of the country but these conditions certainly increased these numbers. The Irish did not leave in family groups. Younger members of the family would leave and send money back home once they started their new life. This is known as the Irish Diaspora. Between 1.5-2 million people left because of the issues in Ireland. These people never came back, never saw their families again. I've included a song (it's modern, it's called Thousands Are Sailing by The Pogues) that kind of captures the Irish journey.

At least 800,000 people died in the Great Hunger (mostly from disease brought on by malnutrition) but there is no real way of knowing the exact amount. It is likely that the total is way higher.

But that leaves us with our theoretical Irish person in America, which is where I will pick up my story next time.

Leaving the homeland

Nellie's Irish Dance Outfit of Today

Nellie wears a competition costume for Irish Stepdance. I highly recommend that you read the Kathleen book from the Girls of Many Lands series that was once produced by American Girl. I did want to make something clear that was sort of discussed in the book. Step dancing is not an ancient art. Yes, it derives from traditional Irish dance. But the version we know today, popularized by things like Riverdance (go see it if you ever have the chance), is a fairly modern thing. It was really a product of the Gaelic Revival in the 19th century which attempted to revive traditional Irish language and increase Irish pride. Despite the questionable authenticity, I am very supportive of Irish pride.

It became popular in the United States because obviously there is a huge population of people descended from Irish immigrants. I am one and have in fact seen a few of these productions. 

Here's an actual modern Irish Dance competition outfit.
Found on Pinterest.

Anyways, this set was released in 2005 and sold for $28. It included a dress, shoes, socks (which I do not own because they did not come in the lot), a headband for Nellie, and a matching headband for a child (another thing I do not own).


Nellie's dress is a dark and light green (of course it is green) velvet dress. The dark green is a forest green color. On the light green front, green and pink swirls and pink hearts add a festive touch to the design. Since green almost always looks stunning on people with red hair, this dress looks amazing on Nellie.  

Here's a better picture of the hearts and swirls on the dress. The light green is lined at the edges with silver to set it off from the dark green background.

The sleeves are long and dark green with a light green cuff framed by the silver trim. Again, the pattern of hearts and swirls is present.

I like the dress-I think the color is really nice on Nellie. However, I think the designs-the hearts and swirls-could have been done better. The design was simplistic to me when a more obviously Celtic design would have worked better. I don't see this as a really elegant costume.

Shoes and the Nonexistent Socks:

The shoes are black dancing shoes that have ribbons that can be wrapped around her ankles to fasten them. I adore shoes like that-they remind me of my ballet days. Unfortunately since I do not have the socks, the shoes are just on her feet. I didn't have a set of socks that I thought were comparable to the ones she wears with this set. At the same time, I don't want to pay a premium for a pair of socks. I saw one pair not too long ago for $20. $20 for doll socks?!? Get outta here with that noise.


Nellie wears a sort of crown with her outfit. 

It's the same light green as parts of the dress with a heart in the middle and pink and green swirls. I don't really like it for reasons I can't really explain and typically Nellie doesn't wear it when she dons this dress. For the purposes of this review though I put the headband on.

The set also came with a matching headband for people but I didn't get that. Unlike the socks, I don't care at all.


Overall, I do like this outfit...sort of. It's not that I think the outfit doesn't look good on Nellie. It does. But it kind of weirds me out to put what is clearly a modern dress on a doll from 1904. Instead of this, I wish they had given her an Edwardian style green dress. 

Additionally, I do not think that this is the best Irish Dance Outfit American Girl has ever released. I don't have the actual outfit so I resorted to a stock photo.

This is the Irish Dance Costume that was released in 2007. First of all, I think the dress is much more attractive. The black set off by the green, gold, and silver is simply stunning. The Celtic designs are more sophisticated than hearts and swirls. The headband is nicer. The brat (cape) is a nice touch, as are the cuffs.

Yes, that is a wig. In these dances, girls traditionally curl their hair. Nellie's hair would not have been worn in her natural style for a step dance. This outfit is just better. If Nellie and the doll in the pic went to the competition and there was a best costume award, the doll above would win. 

I think I will try and seek out this costume for Nellie as well, though I am not sure since the modern outfit on historical doll already rubs me the wrong way a bit (I don't mind it when other people's dolls do it but my dolls are almost always stuck in their time period).

Overall, it is a cute outfit that I think could have been done a lot better. Frankly, if the outfit hadn't come in the lot, I doubt I would have gotten it. 

But hey-it was exciting to learn a bit more about Irish history!


I want to be clear that I don't think the government of Great Britain actually set out to destroy the population of Ireland. Genocide implies an intent to kill and the fact that the British did set up some relief efforts (however paltry) shows that they did not intend to murder the Irish or get them out of Ireland. Otherwise, why would they slow the progress of the calamity? That would be counter productive. You don't give soup to people you are trying to starve out. And there were plenty of British people who did a lot of charitable work to help the Irish.

It was more that the policies of the government over the past few centuries set the Irish up to fall hard when the blight did hit and that the relief effort was not enough.

But I would like to point something out in defense of the English. Most governments back then believed in laissez-faire capitalism. They did for a long time. Look at the reactions of Kit's uncle in her series-he was disgusted that someone was going to help the poor who, after all in his opinion, should be able to help themselves. The British government refused to outlaw the merchants from moving their crops out to better markets because they didn't believe in economic interference. 

I don't think any other country would have done much better because that was the dominant economic theory in the west at that time. This wasn't some plot to destroy the Irish in particular (though there was certainly anti-Irish sentiment). It wasn't racism so much (is racism the correct word for this, since the Irish were not considered white?) as classim, a belief widespread then AND today that the poor are poor because of their own actions or inactions and that the government shouldn't give them a free ride. That belief, that refusal to understand that where you start in life has a large impact on where you finish, has caused a lot of suffering in the world. This is one, extreme example.

I say this because I don't think the British should entirely get the blame for something I believe every other industrialized nation in the west would have done at that time. Historical relativity people. Keep it in mind.

(trigger warning for the comments section of the above link because there was apparently a Holocaust denier on there-just read the post)


  1. Hello! I'm an Irish dancer who has extensively studied the form and costuming so I wanted to add a comment on a few things:
    Nellie's dress is an older style, one that was popular from the late 90s to about 2007. The headband that comes with it is pretty accurate.
    The 2007 Irish Dance outfit that they released is sleeveless, and therefore wouldn't be allowed in competition.
    The reason girls wear their hair in a wig or curled is because traditionally dance was done at gatherings on Sunday afternoons, after going to church in your "Sunday Best" (i.e. curled hair).

    1. Thank you for sharing! Do you mind if I edit the post to include that updated information?