What Are the ‘Time Out’ Dolls at Car Shows?

Warning: Look away now if creepy dolls cause you nightmares. 

There are some things that can only be found in America. Spray cheese, excessive tipping, the big yellow school bus, and strangely, faceless time-out dolls. 

These creepy, faceless child-like dolls can be found all over car shows. Usually propped up against different parts of a car, the dolls will be sat on the bumper, the front seat, or the steering wheel. 

Unsurprisingly, spectators are confused about their origin, and simply want to know why the time-out dolls are still being put out at the majority of vintage car shows in America. 

Not to be confused with props that have been stolen straight off the set of American Horror Story, these large-bodied dolls are misunderstood, and with good reason. After looking at Reddit feeds and online forums, it’s pretty clear that the reasoning behind the dolls is unknown. Many tall tales have been passed down through the decades, and few are able to give a definitive reason for these creepy friends joining us whilst we’re looking at a shiny-red Cadillac. 

Originating in the 1950’s, the time-out dolls were made to represent a large-ish, realistic child doll with their hands covering their face. With different adaptations being created over the years, the dolls have become a staple item to spot at your average American car show.

The phrase ‘time-out’ often refers to a punishment a child is given for some kind of bad behavior. Consequently, the dolls look like they’re in a permanent state of dismay and upset. 

So, why are the time-out dolls still used at car shows? 

The truth is, there is not a definite answer. There is no conclusive answer to why these abnormal figures are propped up against the shiny bumpers for everyone to experience. 

The dolls are usually presented with a ‘faceless’ appearance, dotted around cars, sitting on the roof, or peering over steering wheels. They’re often made up in a period fancy dress, like a petticoat, a shiny bomber jacket, or a crew-neck cardigan. Some say this is to bring a sense of nostalgia to the shows, representing innocence and a memory of the average car-goers childhood. 

Theories behind the meanings of the dolls vary from person to person. Everyone likes to get in on the myths and legends behind it all and to give their input on the origin of the dolls. Sadly, this means the real reason behind the mystery of the time-out dolls has drifted further into the past.

Are the time-out dolls only there to cover paint scratches and bumps on the vehicle? They do create a pretty good distraction. There’s no question as to whether or not the dolls are eye-catching enough to hide any faults. 

Or were the sad, faceless dolls created to represent all the children who hate car shows? Most of the upset lifeless children look like they’re throwing a strop or having a tantrum whilst leaning on their parent’s beloved cars. It’s definitely a unique way to bring children to the car shows. 

Some state the crying children represent the sadness of a child realizing his inheritance has been spent on his father’s overpriced Chevrolet.

But most state the dolls remind them of the past. As the shows attract many a retiree, having the dolls on display start conversation, remind the oldies of their youth, and bring back childhood memories.  

Over the past few years, a number of judges have requested car owners to stop displaying time-out dolls in front of their vehicles, due to them being able to hide paint scratches or dents. It sadly (or not so sadly, if child-like dolls give you nightmares) looks like the time-out doll could come to an end. 

There’s no doubt that the far out-of-town, wacky, remote areas with tons of enthusiasts living and breathing car shows will still find the room to display their beloved creepy child-size dolls. Some even state the reason why people travel to their event is due to the craziness of the time-out doll outfits and positions. Each to their own, right? 

So the next time you effortlessly drive by a car show or spot one advertised on the freeway, give it a go. Whether or not you like cars, now you know these crazy characters exist, how could you resist?

You might just be lucky enough to see a miniature Elvis sitting in the front seat. 




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