We look at Barbie and fashion through different lenses — Barbie’s adoration for fashion, the collaborations between designers and Barbie and finally, how Barbie has inspired designers.
Barbie creator, Ruth Handler, and husband, Elliot Handler, founded Mattel Creations in 1945. She was inspired to design the Barbie doll after watching her daughter play with paper dolls. Most dolls made for children were baby dolls, not fashion models. The first Barbie was introduced at the American International Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959. This date is considered her official birthday.
Barbie’s look was inspired by Bild Lilli, a German doll based on a comic strip character that Handler bought in Europe in 1956. Mattel purchased the rights to Bild Lilli in 1964. (Bild Lilli dolls from 1952 to 1964 have their own collectors.)
The original Barbie, No. 1 as she is known by collectors, is easily identified in its black and white bathing suit. It had copper tubes in its legs and holes in its feet, enabling it to be upright in a stand. No. 2 Barbie, released the next year, no longer had holes in her feet and sported a different wire stand. A Barbie No. 1 with a brunette ponytail recently auctioned for $4,600, nearly double its high estimate. (It’s pictured in Kovels’ February 2019 newsletter.) And, depending on rarity and condition, her fashion accessories can sell for more than a vintage Barbie itself.
Barbie has more than 150 careers on her resumé and reflects how women’s careers have changed since the 1950s. She broke the toy “glass ceiling” in 1960 when she worked as an astronaut and went to the moon.
Barbie was a “Commuter” in 1959 and a “Busy Gal” in 1960, both ambiguous terms for the “Career Girl” (1963) trying to find her footing. Over the years she has been a Fashion Editor (1960), Nurse (1961), Stewardess (1961; she became the Pilot in (1990), Surgeon (1973), and Veterinarian (1985). She entered the Board Room in the 1980s and 1992 as a Business Executive and CEO. She joined the military in 1991 as a Navy Petty Officer, the Marine Corp in 1992, became an Army Medic in 1993 and a Paratrooper in 2000. Barbie was also a Teacher (1985, 1992, and other years), Doctor (1988), UNICEF Ambassador (1989), Police Officer (1993), Pediatrician (1994), Firefighter (1995), Dentist (1997), Chef (2007), News Anchor (2010), Computer Engineer (2010), Architect (2011) and Presidential Candidate (2012). And she is still learning and exploring new careers.
Barbie No 2 with a blonde ponytail and wearing a brockage and fur ‘Evening Splendor’ ensemble was made from 1959 to 1964. This doll, with box, brought a whopping $6,325 at a recent Theriault’s auction in Chicago. Search for prices of many more Barbie dolls and her groovy Barbie accessories at Kovels.com.