In this edition of the Vintage Brand History Series, we're covering...Barbie dolls! Who remembers their first Barbie? I only had one as a girl, and I still remember when my dad gave her to me - she was a My First Barbie, and he presented her to me in her signature pretty pink box by peeking her over the top of the newspaper that he was reading. I only had one Barbie growing up and no Ken dolls, so my doll just danced with one of my teddy bears or a stuffed dog or something, haha.
My First Barbie. Credit: KillersClassics on Etsy
Barbie dolls first launched in March of 1959 at the American International Toy Fair in New York City and are the creation of a woman named Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel with her husband Elliot. Barbie's full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts and was named after the couple's daughter. Can you guess the name of the couple's son? You got it - Ken! The Ken doll (full name Ken Carson) was created in 1961 in response to a high consumer demand for a husband or boyfriend for Barbie. The original Barbie came in blonde or brunette, though she has always sold more as a blonde.
Playing with Barbie dolls with friends was one of my favorite things to do as a little girl, as I grew up with two brothers and neither were ever interested in her world. In fact, I still remember the sight of my beloved and only Barbie wading in the toilet after my baby brother had attempted to flush her, which was a very traumatic sight for me! I'm sure a lot of us that had a Barbie doll also remember the "trauma" of attempting to give her a haircut, only to have it turn out so horribly, horribly wrong, haha. My friends always had a variety of Barbie dolls and accessories, like her Dream House and convertible or the amazing hair-styling tool that worked both on Barbie's hair AND your own. We all used to get that thing soooo tangled in our hair! My two all-time favorite Barbie dolls were 1983's Crystal Barbie (I can still feel the plastic-ness of her dress!) and 1984's Peaches and Cream Barbie:
It seems like I really loved a sparkly gown and giant poufy stole, right? If you're in the mood to reminisce, here are the original commercials for both of those:
And here's the commercial for the Twirly Curls Barbie (1982), the one that came with the hair-styling tool:
I remember all my friends had the "Day to Night" Barbie too, and she wore a pink business suit for her workday and then she could remove her jacket and flip her skirt inside-out to reveal a pretty tulle version. She carried both a briefcase AND a purse, and they were stocked with cardboard accessories.
I still want a skirt that can do that.
The Loving You Barbie from 1983 was very popular when I was a little girl too! She came with stickers and stamps and an inkpad that really worked. That red velvet bodice and those sheer and puffy 1980's shoulders though...
Barbie Fun Facts:
- Mattel was the first toy company to broadcast commercials to children, and Barbie was one of the first toys to be advertised on television.
- Barbie was inspired by paper dolls - Ruth saw her daughter playing with them one day and decided to create a three-dimensional version that was more woman than the traditional toy of the era, a baby doll, and therefore could inspire more career-oriented play instead of the then-current and traditional housewife and mother roles.
- Barbie was modeled after the German 'Bild Lilli' doll, a risqué gag gift for men based upon a cartoon character from the West German newspaper Bild Zeitung.
- Best friend Midge was added to the line in 1963 and little sister Skipper was introduced in 1964. Mattel introduced Black friend Christie in 1968, but it wasn't until 1980 that a Black version of Barbie herself was released. Below, Christie is on the left and the first Black Barbie is on the right.
- Over the span of her existence, Barbie has had more than 200 careers! These include astronaut, doctor, paleontologist, firefighter, rock star, pilot, veterinarian, computer engineer, architect, game developer, ballerina, teacher, vice presidential candidate, lifeguard, police officer, wildlife conservationist, flight attendant, NASCAR driver, entomologist, fashion model, McDonald's cashier, boxer, scuba diver, and....cat burglar! (No, really!)
1980's Astronaut Barbie (check out those shoulders too!)
Barbie as a cat burglar, specially designed by Christian Louboutin himself.
- The first celebrity to become a Barbie was supermodel Twiggy in 1967. Since then numerous celebrities and famous people have had a Barbie doll made in his or her likeness either as themselves or characters that they have played, like Cher, Diana Ross, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Collins, Grace Kelly, Brooke Shields, Britney Spears, Destiny's Child, Elvis & Priscilla Presley, Barbara Streisand, Misty Copeland, Zendaya, Farrah Fawcett, Reese Witherspoon (she has a few, like Elle Woods from 'Legally Blonde' and Mrs.Whatsit from 'A Wrinkle in Time' - Oprah Winfrey & Mindy Kaling also have Barbie versions of their characters from this movie), Frank Sinatra, Reba McEntyre, James Dean, Joan Jett, Vivian Leigh & Clark Gable, Jennifer Lawrence, Maya Angelou, Marilyn Monroe and Prince William & Kate Middleton.
Click here to see a slideshow of some of the dolls mentioned above, plus a lot more.
- Barbie and Ken have been made into various characters over the decades too, like Agents Dana Scully & Fox Mulder from 'The X-Files', Romeo & Juliet, Scarlett O'Hara & Rhett Butler in 'Gone with the Wind', the cast of the original 'Star Trek' TV show, pretty much every Disney Princess ever created, Dorothy Gail, the cast of the TV show 'Mad Men', Wonder Woman and Gomez & Morticia Addams, to name a few.
- Historical figures of Barbie were introduced in 2018 under Mattel's "Inspiring Women" collection and featured dolls of Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, and Katherine Johnson. Barbie versions of famous sports figures like Mia Hamm, Billie Jean King, and Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad have also been created.
- In 1997 Mattel created the first doll in a wheelchair, the Share a Smile Becky Barbie.
- The best-selling Barbie to date is 1992's Totally Hair Barbie:
- Over the years Barbie has been an inspiration for many fashion designers and has been outfitted by over 70 of them. Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Diane von Furstenberg, Zac Posen, Escada, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta and Vera Wang are just a few, but the Bob Mackie-designed Barbie dolls are to this day one of the most sought-after dolls by collectors. Click here to view a slideshow!
- Barbie dolls could not wear flat shoes until 2015 when Mattel's Fashionistas line was released and her ankles were redesigned.
- The woman with the largest collection of Barbie dolls, Bettina Dorfmann, lives in Germany. She's in the Guinness Book of World Records and owns over 15,000 types.
- Three Barbie dolls that did NOT go over well with parents were 1992's Teen Talk Barbie, who said phrases like "Will we ever have enough clothes?" and "Math class is tough!", 2003's pregnant Midge which featured a magnetic baby that could be removed by snapping off Midge's belly, and 2009's Totally Stylin' Tattoos Barbie. I definitely remember the pregnant Barbie because one of the girls that I nannied for had it...it was pretty creepy, not to mention very misleading as to where babies come from, haha.
- Barbie was in a band! Barbie and the Rockers was a doll line released in the mid-1980's to compete with Hasbro's Jem dolls. The Rockers dolls were on the market for only about 3 years but inspired a miniseries and direct-to-video film.
A lot of my friends had the Rockers doll too! I remember owning the tiny purple jelly bangle bracelets and the pink jacket with the silver sparkles - I think I ended up adding them to the family toy box for my nieces but they've most likely been lost or were gotten rid of long ago.
- Barbie's facial features changed over time as well - when she first launched she had cat eye makeup and a sideways glance with pursed red lips, and then gradually her eyes started to face forward and she was given a smile in a soft pink lip.
- Click here to find out the most popular Barbie from the year you were born!
- As of the writing of this blog post, the most recent person to get a Barbie makeover is one of my personal heroes, Dr. Jane Goodall! Released in July of 2022, the doll is made of 90% recycled plastic that would have otherwise been bound for the ocean.
If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend the documentary 'Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie' released in 2018 and available to watch on Hulu. The documentary goes into a history of the doll and the controversies that she's created over the years and examines her latest and biggest reinvention. Here's a trailer:
Thanks so much for reading all about this 11.5 inch tall icon with me! Barbie and other 11.5" tall dolls are larger than the standard 1:12 scale dollhouse accessories, so when you're shopping for clothing, accessories, food, dishes, housewares and furniture for Barbie and her friends for either you or your little ones, look for them in the 1:6 scale. The Mustard Dandelion has a whole Collection dedicated to this larger scale and you can shop them all here.
Check out this adorable vintage Bakelite-style radio in 1:6 scale!
You can also purchase this miniature Barbie figurine:
Which Barbie doll was your first? What were your favorite Barbie dolls growing up - which ones did you have and which ones did you always want? What celebrity versions and designer looks do you love? Do you still have your childhood Barbie dolls? Let us know all about it in the comments below!
Some additional favorites:
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All imaging and written copy on this site is original and the protected property of The Mustard Dandelion™ brand. Sources for images featured in this post include Barbie Media, Mattel, Amazon and the Jane Goodall Institute. All other sources are included with the photos.