Retro & Period Dolls: 4 Important Details to Look For

Posted by Madame Alexander on Sep 13, 2014

Retro and period dolls 4 important details to look for

If you've looked into collecting dolls you know that antique dolls can be prohibitively expensive, hard to find, and difficult to take care of.

But contemporary dolls dressed in period costumes can provide a fascinating window into the life and styles of other eras. A meticulously accurate retro-style doll can transport you to another time, be it the Victorian Age or the Roaring 20's.

Online resources can be help you judge how authentic a doll's outfit really is. Looking at vintage illustrations, advertisements, portraits, and movies from the era can also help give you a sense of the right feel for the time.

Here are 4 important aspects to pay close attention to when you're shopping for authentic style of a retro, vintage or period dolls:


1.) The Details

1889 La Goulue Moulin Rouge Doll

At Madame Alexander, we put a lot of attention into the details. So, this aspect get's the top slot.

Not only should the garments' silhouettes and shapes be appropriate to the period, but so should patterns, stitchings and fasteners. For instance:

  • A medieval French princess just would not wear paisley — as it was not popularized in Europe until the 1600s.
  • A Civil War-era doll should not show visible zippers — which debuted in 1893.

And powdered wigs were out of style by the late 1800s, except for British judges and lawyers. It's the little details like these that really make all the difference in authenticity & accuracty to the time period your doll would be in.



Shoes, handbags, jewelry and other accessories are also highly specific to their times. Obviously, a Native American squaw shouldn't be wearing Nikes.

But what's the difference between the sandals worn by an ancient Roman noblewoman and a Viking queen? Did ladies in the 1900s wear different shoes than their granddaughters wore in the 1940s?

Researching historical footwear can help you make sure your doll's shoes don't make a misstep.


Hair & Headwear

The doll shown toMadame Alexander 1923 Doll the right is Madame dressed in 1920 attire and hairstyle.  So copy should speak to 1920 style – the roaring 20’s Gatsby style…..  Victorian and Edwardian don’t seem right here as does reference to men here too.

 In period films, illustrations, and toys, hair is one of the most common anachronisms. Look at any historical movie made in the 1970s or 1980s, and the hair probably looks  more appropriate to the time the movie was made than to the time it's set in. So when dollmakers get hair right, especially sophisticated styles like Victorian and Edwardian hairstyles, the dolls feel especially true to the times.



This is another detail that sometimes reflects the fashions of the time when a doll is made, not the era it's supposed to depict. Ideas about makeup have evolved over the years, so just keep in mind that what may look odd to us today was considered the very height of style in its day. Vintage Make-Up Guide has a good rundown of styles from the late 1800s to the 1950s.


Subtle shifts in style through the decades make all the difference in period dolls.

A doll that really gets the details right is not only a thing of beauty: it's a work of art that carries you to another age!


These are just a few important things to look out for. What do YOU pay attention to when you're shopping for authentic style of a retro, vintage or period dolls? Share your tips in the comments below!


Like what you've read? Click to subscribe to our Blog!

Topics: Doll Collecting, Period Dolls, Retro Dolls

Subscribe to Email Updates