My only daughter was a tomboy who never had any interest in dolls. Both of my grandchildren are boys. So when my sister and I began the Barbie holiday donation project (which you can read about in an earlier post) I had not picked up a Barbie in 50 years.
Our project didn’t require any research but curiosity started my search to see what the world of Barbie looks like in 2020. Wow! What a difference a decade (or five decades!) can make! Barbie has come a long way from the days when my friends and I created “houses” for our dolls with a shoe box and pictures of furniture cut from the Speigel catalog! Cars and horses, dogs, babies in strollers, miniature food in familiar packages, and giant pink plastic “dream houses” and even a mansion, all complete with as many furnishings and accessories as any little girl could ever dream of!
In the 60’s and 70s Barbie’s family and friends included Midge, Ken, Skipper, PJ and a handful of others. Today, Barbie’s circle has grown so large that she probably needs a Facebook friends list to keep them all straight. Barbie herself is no longer just “Barbie.” Not only can little girls play with a Barbie of their own ethnicity, but they also have the choice of Fashionista Barbies, Career Barbies, Rainbow Sparkle Barbie, celebrity Barbies, Olympic Team Barbie…just to name a few. There is an inspiring women series with dolls like the Rosa Parks Barbie and the Ella Fitzgerald Barbie. There is even a doll called “Curvy Barbie who carries a few extra pounds and is likely meant as a response (inadequate at best) to those who complain that Barbie is idealized and does not look like real women. The complainers do have a point. Even Curvy Barbie is a pretty gal. But in the doll maker’s defense, who wants to buy an ugly doll?
As Barbie aged, it was inevitable that she would move into the homes of collectors. Collectible Barbies include Anniversary and Holiday dolls which I think of as a crossover Barbie- a doll priced to be purchased for children’s playtime which is also sought after by collectors who never remove them from their sealed boxes.
One big collectible market are the vintage dolls, the Barbies and Midges that my friends and I played with. In the secondhand market it is possible to buy original vintage dolls, doll cases, clothing and accessories that have been stored away for decades.
Reproductions of these old style dolls are sold in reproduction packaging that can look like the real thing although they seem to be properly labeled. Collectors must take care to know what they are buying. Uninformed sellers often label their dolls “vintage” or “60s” when the dolls they are selling clearly are neither. A date on the back of Barbie’s body leads them to assume it is a manufacturing date. But the date on Barbie’s back is a copyright date that tells you only when that particular body style was created. Dolls manufactured for decades have used the same bodies that carry a 1960’s date. The only way I have found to identify and date a doll is through tedious research.
In the “collectible only” catagory (dolls too pricey for children’s play) are the Silkstone and Lingerie Barbies. These dolls are some sort of plastic made to look like porcelain. They have more sophisticated features that resemble the faces of vintage dolls more than modern ones. Clothing for these dolls is exquisitely fashioned and pretty pricey.
When I was a child , most of Barbie’s clothing was made, not by Mattel, but by our mothers. My mother never had a pattern but she was a good enough seamstress not to need one. Mom fitted clothes for my dolls by hand. Handmade clothing continues to be a popular way for girls to dress their dolls today. For those of us with less skills than our mothers, there are lots of available patterns. If you are dressing a vintage doll, there are both vintage patterns and new patterns that reproduce vintage styles allowing you to dress Barbie in the fashions of her day. Not only can you find patterns for bell bottoms and poodle skirts, but a seamstress can find patterns to make 1920s flapper dresses, 19th century Victorian gowns, and other historic costumes.