Retirement is when a doll, outfit, book, accessory, collection, or product line is discontinued and no longer available for purchase direct from American Girl.
In the American Girl FAQ, the official explanation for retirement is as follows:
"Like every company, American Girl is constantly revitalizing our products to best meet the needs of our customers and our business. While some items are discontinued, many other products are added to keep American Girl interesting and engaging, and to celebrate who girls are today."
Historical Character Retirements
Originally, very few things were retired from Historical Collections. To maintain consistency with the characters through time, almost nothing was retired by Pleasant Company. While several things were remodeled or retooled, they were not completely removed from being purchased. The major exceptions during these years were the original white body dolls, which were removed to give all the characters flesh-toned bodies, and the Limited Edition Historical Outfits, which, by their nature, were only intended to be offered in small quantities for a limited time.
Keeping each historical character's items consistent--thus to show how things changed through time--was a policy kept until Mattel purchased American Girl. While they maintained this pattern for the initial years, items later began to retire more often and with less of a pattern among the Historicals. For a number of years, retirements were heavily skewed towards Addy, Kirsten, and Josefina, though Felicity was a victim to them in the past. Addy, for example, has had every single item in her school collection retired.
When Kaya was released in 2002, Felicity was removed from paper catalogs. She was only sold online through the website, and her collection was massively retired. She was not included in story expansions or collections as well. Several items (but not all of them) were rereleased when the movie and Elizabeth Cole were released and Felicity's collection was revamped. It is yet to be seen if Addy or Josefina will regain any of their lost collection size should they receive movies and best friend dolls.
The official position of American Girl is that low-selling Historical items are removed to allow newer items to be released for purchase. However, it may be a case of chicken-and-egg in that many low-selling items are not shown in catalogs or advertised as heavily as other items and so do not sell as well. Several collectors feel that the newer items that come out after older things are retired are of a poorer quality than what was previously offered by Pleasant Company.
Historical Character Archiving
On October 6, 2008, it was leaked by American Girl Customer Service that Samantha Parkington and her entire collection, including Nellie O'Malley and her own collection, would be archived -- they are being put away for an unknown number of years, and American Girl's press releases were vague as to whether they will even be rereleased.
The official announcement was made on Oct 13, 2008 , and soon after, a website was launched to share memories of Samantha.  Catalogues and the website stated that the 2008 Holiday Season would be the last holiday season to get Samantha and Nellie. Nellie dolls sold out completely on December 5th, 2008; Samantha dolls remained on constant backorder until selling out on Feb 3, 2009. All item purchases were limited to three maximum of each item (to prevent hoarding for reselling). Books about Samantha and Nellie, as well as their mini dolls and the movie, remain available. Samantha and her collection was officially archived on May 31, 2009, with the release of Rebecca Rubin.
A letter was sent out by American Girl on September 25, 2009, that Kirsten Larson and her entire collection would be archived with the exception of her books and mini doll. A press release from American Girl regarding Kirsten's archival was announced on October 1, 2009.  Her collection was officially archived January 1st, 2010.
In September 2010, American Girl announced that they would archive Felicity Merriman, Elizabeth Cole, Felicity's entire collection, and Elizabeth's collection. Felicity's entire collection was archived on March 28, 2011.
All archived collections and characters are classified with the Girls of the Year on the American Girl Archive.  It is unknown if Samantha, Nellie, Kirsten, Felicity, Elizabeth, Molly, and Emily will ever be rereleased.
Archival is explained by American Girl to allow them to release characters from other time periods or angles that have yet to be covered; so far, this has been accurate.
American Girl of Today/Just Like You/My American Girl dolls have always had periodical retirements of clothing and accessories so as to be able to update styles to reflect modern fashion. Holiday outfits are quite often retired in early Spring after release. Furniture tends to last about a two to three year cycle.
Matching girl's clothing is retired about the same time the doll's outfits are, and allowed to sell out.
Some dolls have been retired for various reasons.
- Some dolls are retired due to low sales or low stock.
- Others dolls have been retired soon before or after a doll of a similar nature is released.
- All dolls that had thick bangs have generally been modified to have a thinner bang style.
- It is suspected the grey eyed dolls were retired or remodeled due to an inclination towards silver eye.
- When all dolls could get pierced ears, the original version of Just Like You 27 was retired with the fixed earrings.
Girls of the Year Retirements
Due to the nature of the Girl of the Year line in that they are limited edition collections, the dolls are retired in a set schedule. Each doll and several items are released at the start of the year. A few more items are released in the summer or fall. However, all items available are retired at the end of the year regardless of remaining stock. Some items run out before December 31; in December, items can be considered retired after they become sold out.
The only items left available after the girl's year has ended are the book (or books in the case of Nicki and all Girls of the Year released after her) and other media, such as Chrissa's movie. At the release of McKenna Brooks, American Girl removed the books Lindsey, Kailey, Marisol, and Jess from sale.
Originally, after the launch of the next doll, remaining stock would be sold at discount. Then everything was fully retired and remaining stock sent to the Madison Children's Museum Sale. Since Chrissa's retirement, some items have been released again under generic names and sold as part of the My American Girl collection.
Bitty Baby/Bitty Twins Retirements
Like the My American Girl line, Bitty Baby and Bitty Twins have items retired on a cyclical basis.
With the revamp of the Bitty Twins line in 2006, all the outfits that suggested a younger age to the twins were retired.
Several lines have been retired by American Girl, most often due to poor sales:
Angelina Ballerina was not retired; the line was purchased by another company.
Books have been retired on a infrequent basis. It generally depends on the line.
- Original Fiction Novels are no longer sold through American Girl.
- The History Mysteries are a discontinued line.
- While the Girls of the Year are all retired at the end of the year, their books and any movies released remain available for a time afterwards. Recently, American Girl removed the books Lindsey, Kailey, Marisol, and Jess leaving the possibility that books for older Girls of the Year will be retired as new books are released.
- When all of the Girls of Many Lands were retired, so were their books.
- Amelia's notebooks stopped being carried through American Girl, though Marissa Moss continued to write them and publish them through Simon & Schuster.
Other books, such as activity books or informational books, are retired in cycles as purchases and/or stock become low, or relevance is diminished. While the Historical Characters have had some books retired (e.g. the Short Stories) none of their Central Series have ever been retired completely (though hardback editions have been.)
Purchasing Retired Items
Although items cannot be purchased by American Girl directly after retirement, there are other ways to obtain retired items. Many will have a higher cost than what was originally offered due to either rarity or fragility, but many can be found at a cheaper cost.
- The most prolific method is eBay or similar auction sites; retired items can be searched for and purchased from sellers. This is hit and miss--some items show up very frequently, while others show up rarely. Sometimes, items are sold incomplete, missing various things such as hats or smaller accessories (for example, the windmill that comes with Felicity's Town Fair Outfit is known to break very easily).
- If a collector is a member of any number of online communities, they can find other collectors selling items through private direct sales.
- The Madison Children's Museum Sale used to have several retired items available that were returned to American Girl. This was changed with the Consumer Product Safety Information Act; they now primarily sell overstock.
- Some collectors who are skilled in craftwork or sewing make replications of items and outfits, either for personal use or to sell to other collectors. It can be very hard to do this with clothing, as prints cannot be exactly matched each time; however, many collectors are satisfied with near replicas.
- Some wholesale doll clothing companies have made replications; the quality and accuracy of these items varies.
- The historical clothing patterns which were released for Felicity, Josefina, Kirsten, Addy, Samantha, and Molly are available to be downloaded in .pdf form from AG Playthings here; these can be used to make simulations of retired items or different items in the same style of the originals.
- Books can be found on secondary markets such as used books stores, Amazon, private sales, or eBay. Some books may remain in stock at physical book stores.