Living in today’s world where the vast majority of product advertising is aimed at a teen driven market, it is sometimes hard to remember that it has been less than 100 years since “teen age” became a distinct chapter of life. Before the early decades of the 20th century, there was no such phase. Children were children until they were old enough to work or move into marriage. Their futures were determined largely by the adults in their lives and they moved from childhood to adulthood in quick succession.
In the early years of the 20thcentury this began to change. Mechanization and changing attitudes played their parts in extending the time between childhood and adulthood as middle and upper-class children were no longer required to be wage earners for their families. The term Teen – age came into use in the 1920s to describe young people no longer young children but who had not yet assumed adult responsibilities. Many states began to raise the age of required school attendance and the advent of the automobile made it possible for adolescents to attend centralized high schools. The 1930s and 40s saw a new society forming, made up of larger numbers of teens interacting with less direct parental supervision than in the previous decades. As WWII took young adults off to wartime activities, those too young for the military or war support employment began to be referred to as “teenagers.”
By the 1950s teenage culture was becoming fully formed in the American lexicon and a wide range of products were marketed at this new target audience. As always, the dolls of the era were a reflection of this new world. Toy companies began to bring out teen fashion dolls which delighted little girls who were primed to imagine themselves as part of the teen society they would enter in High School.
Among the first to offer dolls of this type was Madame Alexander who brought out her 10.5″ Cissette doll in 1954. Cissette was glamorously attired for all activities, perhaps leaning a bit more toward the adult world than that of the teen or toward the debutante experience. These dolls, made in an enchanting and easy to dress and play with scale are perfect models for mid-20th century fashion.
Vogue Doll Company’s Jill doll, along with her friends Jan and Jeff were more identifiable as teens. They were outfitted for every teen situation from sports and school to proms and parties.
The popularity of these dolls led to many other companies bringing out similarly sized teen dolls. Cosmopolitan Toy and Toy Corp. brought out their 10.5″ high-heeled fashion doll, Miss Ginger in 1957. In 1958 Ideal introduced their Little Miss Revlon and American Character debuted their Little Miss Toni. The Nancy Ann Storybook Company of San Francisco brought out Miss Nancy Ann in 1959. Numerous other smaller companies made lower priced dolls based on these more popular offerings.
The clothes and accessories available for the 10.5″ teen dolls added tremendous play value to these dolls and are a delight for modern collectors. These dolls paved the way for other teen fashion dolls of the early 1960s such as Barbie and Tammy, but the 10.5″ teen dolls of the late 1950s form a microcosm of teenage life during the period and are great fun to collect and display today.