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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Throwback Thursday review: American Character Tressy and Mary Makeup

I'll bet y'all forgot what day it is!  MikeMikeMikeMikeMike...what day is it, Mike?  LOL, I couldn't resist quoting that commercial, even though it's NOT Hump Day.  Nope, it's that day that comes after Hump day, better known as Thursday, and that means another review of a discontinued or obscure doll!  We're going back to 1965 with this review.  1965...both of my parents were still in school, several towns were in shambles, Bonanza was big, the Beatles were big, and the Who were trying to become just as big.  1965 also saw the arrival of an unusual Barbie rival named Tressy, and that's what I've got today.  I've got Tressy and one of her chaps, Mary Makeup.
Once again I'll recount the stories my parents used to tell us about the dolls available during their time.  There was Barbie, Tammy, Tressy, and Popi.  Daddy said Tammy was his favorite, but Mama has proven to be quite smitten with Tressy.  She's used to me dragging random dolls home at random times, but she was thrilled when I pulled this one out of her package.  Both Tressy and Mary are products of American Character, but plenty of other companies carried the doll long after American Character's folding in 1966.  Palitoy continued to produce Tressy until 1979, which is a darn good stretch for a doll.  But anyway, my dolls are American Character dolls, and both have beauty-themed gimmicks.  Tressy is a hair-grow doll, while Mary has a specially coated face that enabled her owner to apply makeup without it staining the doll.  Don't try the makeup thing on Tressy though; I've read that Mary's makeup did a number on more than one Tressy's face. Speaking of faces, here's what Tressy looks like up close.
I got fairly lucky with Tressy.  I didn't pay much for her, and yet she has it all!  Or she's got most of it.  Her facepaint is 100% intact, complete with crazy-long eyelashes.  Like Barbie, Tammy, Pepper, and Gerda, Tressy has side-glancing eyes that are more detailed but slightly less precisely painted than Barbie's.  Her eyebrows are black, which doesn't match her light brown hair, but would very nicely match darker-haired variations.
Tressy's only other makeup is lipstick.  She has red, slightly pouty lips that don't follow the shape of the mold.
My doll is apparently either a first-wave or a second-wave doll, as the third wave had a face that could take Mary Makeup's face paint (mine can't).  How to differentiate between waves one and two will be revealed in the body review below.

Of course we can't talk about Tressy without discussing her selling point.  She has a full head of hair, plus a fall that "grows."  My doll has honey blonde hair like many of my other vintage dolls do, but other colors could be found.  When her fall is retracted Tressy bears a passing resemblance to Barbie's American Girl self, though her puffy bob favors a side-part American Girl more than it does a center-part doll like my Victorine.
In order to make Tressy's hair "grow" one had to locate the fall (not always easy), press a button on her tummy, and pull the fall gently.  It was as simple as that.  With her fall fully extended Tressy had hair down to her mid-back.
In theory a number of styles were possible for Tressy, but hairstyling has never been a strong point of mine.  When Tressy's hair is long I style it in a single braid, a low ponytail, or in a beehive.  When Tressy's fall is fully retracted I either brush it in with the rest of the hair or I attach a ribbon to the fall like so.
It's kind of a shame that Tressy doesn't have bangs, or I could style her hair like a side-part American Girl's hair, with a single ribbon across the forehead.  I probably still could do that without bangs, though.

My doll is fortunate enough to still have her original dress, a simple red jersey sheath with white edging and a deeply cut back.  She also has little white drawers, which I'm NOT going to photograph.  Perverts tend to like pictures of panties, doll panties included.  Here's the dress though.  I will show that.
The edging is a little grubby.  I'll have to take care of that.  This dress has no fasteners anywhere, by the way!  Tressy has to rely on her key to keep her dress fitted.
Oh yes, the key.  This isn't an original Tressy key but it works the same.  Tressy's hair pulls out when a button is pushed, but to retract the hair one has to use that key.  It fits into a hole in Tressy's back.  Thus why the dress is cut so low in the back.  The hole for the key can be accessed without having to completely disrobe the doll.
When not in use the key ties around Tressy's waist.  It makes a very cute belt and serves as sort of an identification tag as well.  T for Tressy!

Tressy's friend Mary Makeup is not a hair-play doll, though some Mary Makeup dolls did have the windup hair mech like Tressy did.  My Mary's hair is all rooted and it's styled in a bubble cut, not unlike the Barbie dolls of the time.  Since I don't have a bubble cut Barbie, I'm going to use my clone doll "Pam" to compare hair instead.  "Pam" is on the left and Mary is on the right.
"Pam's" name is in quotes because I know her real name now.  She's for next week's review.  Anywho, Mary's hair is nice, but not quite as nice as "Pam's" or Tressy's.  The rooting is visible in places.
Mary does have an extra little hair gimmick though, one that neither "Pam" nor Tressy have.  Her hair could be colored.  Thus why my Mary's hair is so pale.  A more vibrant fiber color would have affected the tone of the dye.

Since Mary's gimmick was makeup, she had to look relatively bare-faced for the trick to work.  Thus Mary has sparse facepaint.
Mine is missing a little of what she does have!  See her lips?
The rest of her facepaint is equally rudimentary; her eyes are royal blue with dull brown eye shadow on the lids.  Shadow and lashes were applied with the makeup kits.
Later dolls had a new paint job that made her look nice even without makeup, but my doll isn't one of those so she will have to remain a Plain Jane for now.  A properly made-up Mary Makeup doll could look as becoming as Tressy or Barbie, but until I can find a way of uploading images from an old magazine y'all will just have to take my word for it.  There was a lovely article in Haute Doll about ten years back that showed some of the things that could be done with this doll, and some of the makeovers made Mary look like a whole new doll.

Regarding clothes, Mary originally came with a sheath dress like Tressy's, key and all, but her dress could be either red or navy blue.  She could also wear Tressy's other clothes, but my doll arrived in this.
I thought this dress was mommy-made until I saw a group of my friend's vintage dollies.  In the group is an ash blonde Twist-n-Turn Barbie, and she is wearing the exact same dress!  My friend was annoyed that the dress stained his doll's body, in fact.  So much for it being mommy-made!  So my buddy and I have a bit of a conundrum right now, as neither of us know who made that dress!  It looks similar (but not identical) to a dress made for Ellie Mae Clampett and Calico Lassie.  Maker aside, the dress fits both Mary and Tressy nicely, and it's very cute.  Look at this fabric!  Butterflies!!!
Regarding clothes sharing, Tressy and Mary have bodies that are highly similar to the older Barbie body. For this comparison we turn again to my reproduction American Girl Barbie, Victorine.
Tressy is taller than Barbie by about half a centimeter, and her rear appears to be smaller than Barbie's, but at first glance that appears to be the extent of the differences.  Both Tressy and Mary move like a vintage Barbie.  They have swiveling shoulders, swiveling hips with no lateral movement, and a neck that pivots.  They can sit, stand on their heads, and do front-back splits.
Tressy's neck is understandably a little stiff in order to accommodate her gimmick, but otherwise she and Mary match Victorine's old vintage-style Barbie body quite well.  By the way, notice that both Tressy and Mary can keep their legs together when they sit.  That is how one tells a first-wave Tressy from a second-wave Tressy.  First-wave dolls sat with their legs in a V like Tammy does.  This will be a crucial point in clothes sharing.

Since Tressy and Mary are of a similar size to Barbie, they can wear Barbie's old dress.  To my surprise, the bodice is just a smidge tight, meaning that Tressy's bosom is a tiny bit bigger than Barbie's.  She and Mary can still wear the dress, though.
All of my TNT-sized clothes fit in a similar manner:  a little tight across the chest, a little loose across the rear, close enough of a fit to wear.  Unfortunately, most of the shoes I've got for my Barbie dolls don't fit Tressy or Mary.  The arches and heels of their feet aren't high enough.

The handful of outfits seen above are the extent of my vintage and reproduction outfits.  Oh sure, I've got some things from the eighties and nineties that Tressy and Mary can wear, but the bulk of my Barbie wardrobe consists of modern-day pieces, stuff that Mattel made to fit the new bellybutton body.  Just for the heck of it, I tried two of my newest outfits on Tressy...and I was in for a shock.  Tressy can wear them, shoes and all!
The outfit on the left has a lot of stretch, while the outfit on the right has a halter neck with virtually no back.  Thus they can fit over Tressy's sizable bust.  Both pairs of shoes are a little too small, but they fit well enough to suit me.  Not all of Barbie's current stuff will fit Tressy and Mary, by the way.  There was a third outfit involved in the above photo shoot, a pair of jeans and a top, and while the jeans fit, the top was not stretchy enough.  There was also that pink dress that I recently reviewed; it proved to be too tight for Mary's bosom.  Still, it's good to know that there are some things out there that can fit these old American Character dolls.  The styles are hit-and-miss, but there ARE modern-day items that will fit Tressy and Mary.  This may mean that my old TNT dolls can wear these dresses too...I'll have to try that in the future.

Speaking of old-style Barbie dolls, they can benefit from this Barbie-Tressy trade-off as well.  Tressy's red sheath fits Victorine without any problems...
...as does the yellow dress, though I prefer that one on a red-haired doll like Marie.
"Pam" can also wear both outfits with aplomb.  Here's the red one...
 ...and the yellow one.
Just for grins, I want to see if Tressy's sheath is loose enough to fit my curvy Barbie dolls.  I've got two now, Billie Jean and Deb.
As usual Billie Jean's blue hair clashes strongly with the vibrant red dress, but this fits both her and Deb nicely.  The belt that held Tressy's key did not fit, and I wish it did because the dress is baggy and a little plain without something around the waist.  I do like the bright red on Deb's dark skin though, so seeking out a proper belt or sash will be worth the while.

Of course one can't compare Tressy to Barbie without bringing Tammy into the fray.  They did all occupy the same part of the sixties, after all.  Tammy and Tressy are of similar construction, being stiff all over, but Tressy can wear Barbie's clothes with far more consistency than Tammy can.  There are two crucial reasons why this is so.  One reason is measurement.  Tressy's measurements are closer to Barbie's than Tammy's are (notice that Tressy is taller than Tammy too).
The other reason is jointing.  Tammy has hips that make her sit like a bimbo on Quaaludes, while Tressy can keep her legs together when she sits, as discussed above.  This allows Tressy to wear pencil skirts and slacks and other items like that, while Tammy is largely restricted to full-skirted dresses.  Hmmm...the butterfly dress is a full-skirted dress. 
This dress fits Tammy so perfectly that I looked all over for an Ideal tag.  No dice, but I love how this looks!  Plus, I doubt it'll stain Tammy's body like it can a TNT doll's body.

I don't know what else to say, so I'll start wrapping it up.

*Gimmicks may have been hard to handle for American Character's target audience.  Not all kids are patient enough to twist Tressy's hair into a decent style or get Mary's eyelashes straight.
*The early dolls were/are stiff, though most dolls were back then.
*Early dolls couldn't share gimmicks back and forth.
*Later dolls looked a little dowdy with their makeup-free faces.
*Shoe-sharing is hit-and-miss.

*Gimmicks were groundbreaking for the time.
*Hair is soft and very pretty.  Mary's is a little things, but Tressy doesn't have that problem.
*Mary's face paint is a little sparse, but both of my girls are well painted otherwise.
*Can share clothes with Barbie.
*Can wear some modern-day Barbie clothes and shoes.

Tressy and Mary are not perfect.  Mary, being a makeup doll, is a little plain in the face and her hair is thin in places.  Tressy's biggest selling point may not have been the easiest to use for butter-fingered children, though American Character did rectify that with styling tools and a little how-to manual for hairstyles.  Both dolls are a little on the stiff side, but in their defense Barbie and Tammy were too.  Posing did get better for Tressy and her crew as the line progressed.  So even though these dolls aren't perfect, I'm very fond of them.  Learning that they can wear some modern-day Barbie outfits was a treat, and that discovery also bodes well for similarly-sized dolls.  Based on the pros and cons I recommend both Tressy and Mary Makeup for any collector that isn't a Barbie purist.  Their approachable faces provide a nice departure from Barbie's heavily lidded stare.

Much love,


  1. I had a big collection of Tressy and friends at one time, but now just have my 'Childhood' lookalike Tressy (mine mysteriously disappeared during a move, yet I still had her key and wedding dress) and a Cricket (little sister). She was my favourite doll and I was so heartbroken to lose her, probably hence ending up collecting them later on.

    1. That sucks that you lost your dolly. More things go missing during moves, don't they? I'm glad that you still have Cricket, though. I think she's very cute.