History

Barbie Turns 60: A Look Back at America’s Most Popular Fashion Doll

Every American girl knows Barbie, the doll went on to change toy history and help shape the lives of young girls everywhere. She was like no other figure at the time, fashionable, blonde with striking features and the body of a supermodel. With endless careers, fashion accessories, friends and a dream house every child could live out her fantasy life through Barbie.

Although once considered controversial upon her debut due to her curvy appearance, mothers all over the United States became accepting of this idol. She was soon considered a role model of how a girl was to live her life. Barbie’s style was tremendously influenced by the ever-changing fashion trends throughout the decade.

The Creator Owned a Toy Company

Barbie was created by Ruth Handler, the co-founder of Mattel toys. Ruth was inspired to create an adult doll for little girls. Influenced by her daughter Barbra’s interest in playing with paper dolls.

Barbie was a replica of the Bild Lilli fashion doll launched in Germany in 1955. The dolls were so similar that their production ceased after Mattel acquired the rights to the doll in 1964.

First There Was Lilli

The Lilli Doll was originally marketed to adults in bars and tobacco shops as a gag gift. The character was somewhat of a sex symbol as she was based on a cartoon from an adult cartoon publication printed in the German tabloid newspaper, Bild. Lilli had a sassy, floozy personality and had the reputation of being a somewhat inhibited woman.

Lill’s style was based on the risqué pin-up fashion of the 1950s. She was platinum blonde with a high ponytail and curled bangs at the front. She debuted a mature look for a doll with painted brows, eyes, cheeks and lips and had a very curvy body for a toy.

Who’s That Girl?

Barbie was first introduced to the world in 1959 at a toy fair in New York City. She debuted as a teenage model in a black and white striped swimsuit that came with sunglasses, high-heeled shoes, and gold-colored hoop earrings. Her body was shapely with movable head, arms, and legs.

Barbie was the first doll in America with an adult body. Named for her daughter Barbara, little did Ruth know her daughter’s name would come to be the most recognizable name to young girls around the world.

Haircut

In 1961 two years after Barbie’s arrival, she had to keep up with trends of the time and this year she debuted a bob hairstyle. This look was very fashionable and emulated sophistication and class during the early 1960s. Barbie appeared in the classic striped swimsuit with a bubble cut hairstyle

Barbie was now available in 4 hair colors black, blonde, brownette (sold only at Sears locations) and a new hair color called titan, which was an auburn red color.

Career

In the early 1960s, one of the hottest jobs for a beautiful young woman was to work as a flight attendant. In this day, flying the skies was glamorous. Barbie’s look resembled the famous Pan Am stewardesses of the time.

She wore a fitted navy suit, featured a trim jacket and four-button closure, and a jacket pin with silver metal wings. Her zippered navy flight bag featured “American Airlines” logo in white, great. This was the first of many careers Barbie would have throughout her lifetime.

Blonde Bombshell

In 1962, the new Barbie debuted a red swimsuit. The hair bob of the 1960s was still a big trend at the time, and Marilyn Manore was one celebrity who wore it.

As a result, the blonde happened to be a big seller because girls wanted a doll that looked like the beauty icon.

Lady in Red

The Red Flare Barbie launched in 1962 with a bubble cut bob helped increase sales for the brunette Barbie dolls. She had a striking resemblance to Jackie Kennedy.

Mrs. Kennedy was a popular fashion icon at the time. The long red velvet coat and pill hat on the brunette Barbie created a mirrored image of the president’s beautiful wife.

Experimenting in the Mid ’60s

The mid-1960s were an interesting time in America. The country was heavily influenced by the music and counterculture of the time. Everybody was experimenting.

In 1966, Mattel decided to think outside of the box. In the era of the psychedelic culture and created the Color Magic Barbie. This doll’s hair color could be changed from blonde to scarlet flame and midnight to ruby red. When the doll’s hair was treated with a solution of vinegar and water, the wigs would change color. A saline solution changed them back to their original shade without a mess. Trippy!

Why So Mod?

In 1967 Twiggy was the hottest fashion model at the time. So popular that she couldn’t compete with fashion model Barbie. So…

Mattel created a very own doll for Twiggy. She was the very first celebrity to be made into a Barbie and an accurate image of the British model; with short blonde hair and a thinner figure than the traditional Barbie. The original Twiggy doll wore a yellow, green and blue vertical-striped mini dress and yellow boots. If you can’t beat them, join them!

Make A Wish

The trends of this era were heavily influenced by what was seen on television. One of the hottest TV shows during the late 1960s was “I dream of Jeannie.”

Barbara Eden was seen by millions as a dreamy icon. Barbie’s new look in 1967 resembling her was a hit!

Flip Hair in 1969

“Twist & Turn Barbie” came with a flip hairstyle as the ‘60s ended. Marlo Thomas sported the same look in the popular show “That Girl,” which aired from 1966 to 1971.

Barbie had a new style which also channeled Mary Tyler Moore, another popular actress on TV during this time. Barbie also sported bright colorful clothing and long lashes made of real hair, which was also a popular trend.

Hippie Counterculture

Live-Action Barbie was launched in 1970 a year after the nation was significantly impacted by Woodstock. This counterculture heavily influenced Barbie’s fashion sense at the time. She was featured in bright colors, bell bottoms, fringe, a headband, and flat shoes. She even had rooted hair eyelashes, since false lashes were hip at the time.

What made this Barbie unique is she had a flexible twist and turnable waist so she could dance to a beat when positioned on a stand. All little girls had to do was move the stand to make her dance. Barbie’s waist could swivel, as well as her legs, arms, and neck. Definitely a sign of the times!

Tan and Bleach Blonde

Barbie’s look continued to evolve with the trends of the time. In the early 1970’s it was trendy to be tan and the blonder your hair the better. Sun Tanned Malibu Barbie was released in 1971 and was part of the “Sun Set Collection.”

The collection featured Barbie and friends in swimsuits with tan skin and long straight bleached blonde hair, Cybil Shepard, a teen fashion model at the time also made this look popular.

Cher

The name Cher is synonymous with spectacular shows, and glamorous, over-the-top style. The Cher doll released in 2007 is dressed in a re-creation of one of Bob Mackie’s unforgettable 1970’s designs created exclusively for the superstar.

The extravagant Native American-inspired look comes alive with an amazing, oversized “feather” headdress, plus matching halter and skirt. Bold and edgy, this doll is the personification of Cher’s signature stage chic.

The Girl Next Door

Remember Chrissy from Three’s Company? She was sweet, innocent, spacey, pretty, and fun-loving. She wears her bleach-blonde hair in bouncy ponytails, and draws a lot of attention from men, along with some of her other notable assets. Sometimes she’s too clueless to notice.

This was a mirrored image of 1980’s “My First Barbie”. It was no accident the show was a hit at the time of this Barbie’s launch.

Dancing Queen

In the late 1970s, Disco was king and with the popularity of Studio 54 Barbie wanted to be a dancing queen! With inspiration from the famous Manhattan club, the first black Barbie emerged in 1980.

She debuted in a stunning high cut red dress, draped in gold. Barbie looks like she stepped out from a night of dancing at the iconic nightclub. We think she channels Tina Turner here.

Roller Skating in the 80’s

Grown-ups had their discos, bars and pool halls, but the children of the 70s had the roller skating rink. Roller skating in the late 1970s and 1980s was all the rage. So much in fact that in 1979, the mayor of Los Angeles declared Venice Beach “the rolling skating capital of the world.” 

Roller skating brought with it a whole new brand of fashion, which was a blend of shiny spandex, windbreakers and high socks. As always, when the celebs started embracing the fad, the masses had to follow suit. Celebrities helped bring awareness to this fad included Brooke Sheilds, Farrah Fawcett, Diana Ross, and Olivia Newton-John. Roller Skating Barbie was released in 1980.

Let’s Get physical

In the 1980s home workouts were all the rage! Olivia Newton-John recorded “Let’s Get Physical” in 1981, Jane Fonda released her first exercise home video in 1982 and “It girl” Heather Locklear was sporting all the hottest workout gear.

Mattel followed the workout craze Great Shape Barbie in 1984. She was an aerobics instructor who donned stylish spandex full-body leotard, sweatband, and leg warmers. Easy exercises were illustrated on the package and booklet so little girls can help Barbie pose her arms and legs correctly.

Barbie’s Got the Beat

After the debut of MTV in the early 1980s Barbie’s next career was a rock star. First released in 1985, with heavy influence from popular music videos and girl bands like the GoGo’s; Mattel created Barbie and the Rockers.

The girls had a “dance action feature.” The feature was that the dolls’ waists could tilt to simulate dancing. The wore bright and bold dramatic eighties rock attire. They rocked all the current trends, including shoulder pads, bright makeup, big earrings, and lace!

A Sensational Style

The Barbie and the Sensations collection, launched in 1987, was a bebop band with a 1950’s vibe. Likely influenced by the release of Grease 2 with Michelle Pfeiffer in 1982. Barbie was joined by her friends who rocked the satin 1950’s style bomber jacket with big poodle style skirts.

This was an all-female rock in roll band with high ponytails and saddle shoes to match. The line also featured an animated special Barbie and the Sensations: Rockin’ Back to Earth released on VHS in 1987.

The Prettiest Princess

The Princess Bride was released in 1987 and became a childhood classic for many young girls growing up during this time. It is every girl’s fantasy to be a princess, and this time, Barbie was one! Channeling the gorgeous Robin Wright, Prettiest Princess Barbie was released in 1989.

She was simple yet elegant and included a beautiful princess style dress with puffed sleeves and a crown placed upon her flowy blonde hair. She also had a matching prince charming, Ken… sold separately.

The Perfect Wedding

In 1989 Mattel released Wedding Fantasy Barbie Doll. This was a collector’s edition doll although it was hard to keep her in the box! She had the most magnificent wedding gown heavily influenced by the fashion trends of the time.

Bridal magazines were extremely popular at this time, so Barbie was dressed in style. In the late 1980s bigger was always better and lace galore! She had huge puffy sleeves and a ridiculous veil and tiara.

Dance All Night

Madonna was the queen of pop in the 1980s. And her style pretty much defined 80’s fashion. She was also quite the performer. Her style and costumes and the way she moved on stage were like no other. She was at the height of her career in 1989 and Barbie needed to make an appearance in honor of the pop icon.

Dance Club Barbie came onto the scene sporting a style only Madonna could influence and of course a microphone. The Barbie commercial ironically sounded something like a Madonna song and a bonus, the doll came with a cassette tape!

Another Day at the Beach

Beach Blast Barbie followed the beach trends of the late 1980s, just without the colored Zinka. She was released in 1989, wore a bright pink suit and had platinum blonde crimped hair, which was all the rage at the time!

What made this Barbie so fun at the time was that her hair turned pink under UV rays. All of the dolls in the Beach Blast collection had UV sensitive hair strip which changed when exposed to sunlight. This was the Barbie all the kids took to the beach!

Mermaids

Possibility influenced by the 1990 film, Mermaids, starring Cher, Mermaid Barbie was released in 1991.With glitter in her hair, a seashell bikini top and matching rainbow reflecting tail. Maybe this was the secret to mom’s getting their children to take a bath.

What made this doll so special was her hair changed to rainbow colors of pink, lavender and blue with icy cold water then back to blond with warm water. Being a mermaid was another girl’s dream which could be lived out through Barbie.

Rolling in the Future

Roller-skates were a thing of the past (the 1980s) and the ’90s were all about rollerblading. Rollerblading was the coolest trend during this time and Barbie and friends got on board. Mattel launched Rollerblade Barbie and friends in 1991.

What made this Barbie so cool was her skates would flicker and flash when rolled against a hard surface and would ignite sparks. (safety hazard we think!) Not only the rollerblade trend but this sparking feature made the Barbie unique and a popular choice by many young girls at the time.

Changing with the Times

Barbie was no longer a rocker; she was now getting into the hip hop industry in the early ’90s. Some of the hottest artists at the time were Run DMC, LL Cool J, and MC Hammer.

During this time, streetwear was becoming a trend. This included leather jackets, gold chains, Kangol hats, and Adidas shoes. Rapin Rockin Barbie came onto the scene in 1991 with tacky gold flare, a leather jacket, mini skirt and of course a big boom box!

Troll Time

In the early 1990s collecting troll dolls was a huge fad (don’t ask us why!) and collecting as many of these creepy/cute creatures was all the rage. Well say no more, Barbie jumped on this trend in 1992.

With a troll outfit, matching earrings and a few of her own dolls, Barbie size of course! The hair on the troll dolls was interchangeable, which made for a fun experience.

The Best-Selling Barbie of All Time

Totally hair Barbie was released in 1992. Her extra-long crimped (the main fad at the time) hair reached all the way to her toes. More than ten million Totally Hair Barbie dolls were sold worldwide, making her the best-selling Barbie in Mattel’s history.

She wore a bright micro mini dress and came with five hair accessories. Children could add gel (Dep included) to style or cut her long hair.