Custom Dolls are dolls that have been modified into unique looks or characters that American Girl has not made. This can include (but is not limited to) custom Historical Characters, modern dolls, and characters from other literature, movies, or other media.
Starting in 2017, American Girl released the Create Your Own line, allowing for officially created custom dolls.
Reasons for Customization
A highly popular reason for custom Historical Characters is that American Girl will probably never be able to cover every time period in the history of the United States. The company has skipped over some significant periods such as the Late Victorian Era from the 1870s to the early 1900s and the Romantic Era of the 1830s. Also, it is highly unlikely that a doll will be created in a time period before Kaya'aton'my, as she is specifically billed as the First American Girl. Custom characters can be created for these times that American Girl will most likely not cover or have not covered.
Even historical periods that have been covered have not been covered from all possible angles, especially angles that can be considered highly controversial such as race and class (most Historical Characters are middle to upper class at some point in their series, with a few as working class). Also, some people may enjoy the fashions and items from a time period, but not the character or the aspects shown by said character. In these cases they may wish to make a Historical Character of their own that covers that time period.
While American Girl has created Best Friends for some Historical Characters, they did not create every possible Best Friend before the discontinuation of the line. Furthermore, some characters have what can be considered "multiple" best friends. For example, Molly McIntire's best friends in the stories are Susan Shapiro and Linda Rinaldi; however, Emily Bennett was chosen to be her companion.
Released dolls may also not be what a person is looking for; sometimes American Girl has modified the characters image. (The most striking is Elizabeth Cole, who was changed from a brunette to a blonde; a more minor difference can be seen with Ruthie Smithens, who was given grey eyes, or Emily who was given longer hair.)
American Girl so far (as of 2021) has released one named male character (Logan Everett) and four other modern boy dolls, not counting the Bitty Twins line. The doll's anatomy is very gender-neutral for a prepubescent child, including for WellieWishers. Custom male characters have and continue to be made from the dolls and are generally dressed in a more masculine fashion.
Given the very nature and marketing of the original modern doll line (in that the dolls are nameless and purchasers are encouraged to create their own characters), they can be modified into any character. Many purchasers and collectors use the dolls as a base to create custom dolls. However, not all combinations are available via the modern line through American Girl, even through the Create Your Own line. Furthermore, American Girl will not customize or mix and match dolls outside of the Create Your Own Line, which also has limited options; any further customization must be made outside of the company.
Some people, rather than restoring a damaged doll to original looks--which often necessitates sending in to an American Girl Hospital and the cost and time of repairs and restoration--choose to customize a doll. This is a more labor intensive, but possibly cheaper method. Furthermore, to avoid identical looks a person may customize two alike dolls.
Methods of Personal Customization
Clothes changing and/or modified hair styles are the easiest and most prolific method of making a custom doll. This requires nothing more than changing the clothes and/or changing the hairstyle a doll wears.
Through American Girl, dolls without hair or with hearing aids are available. These--along with earrings--are the only modifications that are done by the company and will not prevent a doll from repairs.
At the most complex and permanent, people have dyed the vinyl and bodies of dolls to a different skin tone. Lighter dolls may be dyed darker, but darker dolls cannot be bleached lighter.
Create Your Own/Official Customs
In 2017, American Girl released the Create Your Own line, allowing for personally customized and designed dolls (called One of a Kind) through the company.
Customizing and the American Girl Hospital
Heavily customized or modified dolls will not be repaired by American Girl, such as those with eye swaps, full dyes, or that have been rewigged; these modifications are not endorsed by the company and are considered to be "altered" dolls.
A rewigged doll with the wig removed can be sent in for a repair, but will likely be returned with a new wig according to the factory-issued doll. Dolls with unique face and/or body paint (e.g. freckles or customized makeup) will either have it removed or--if the part that was customized is in need of replacement--be lost.
One of a Kind Dolls, as these are designed and created by American Girl, are repairable at no higher cost than other dolls, but may take an extra week in repair.