In 1956, Ruth and Elliot Handler were visiting Germany on holiday with their children, Barbara and Kenneth when they found a novelty doll intended as a novelty for adults based on the Bild newspaper cartoon strip 'Lilli'. Ruth had previously been trying to sell the idea of a 1/6 scale fashion doll to Mattel to no success but when she saw Lilli she snapped her up, took her home, reworked her and named her 'Barbie' after her daughter. Barbie premiered at the 1959 American International Toy fair and the world's first 11 and a half inch fashion model was born!
Lilli was intended as a joke gift for adults rather than a child's plaything. Ruth Handler saw the potential that little girls might want to pretend at playing adults with dolls and a wonderful idea came about.
1959 Barbie in her 'zebra' print bathing suit and high ponytail captured the imaginations of little girls who wanted to be pretty, grown up and independent just like her.
Barbie's on TV!
Early '60s Barbie in her stiff costume-like outfit
Barbie proved to be wildly successful and soon acquired a boyfriend named Ken (after the Handlers' son, Kenneth. Not weird at all then!) but after a few years her look became stuffy, she looked like a lady in her late 30s, not the fun carefree young woman she set out as. Her clothing was beautifully made but matronly and dated and her sales suffered as other, more youthful dolls came onto the market. She needed a revamp, the swinging sixties just happened to occur at the right time...
Barbie Goes Mod!
Twist n Turn Barbie 1967
Barbie was back with a bang! Mattel even offered a trade in on your old Barbie when you went to purchase her in the modern 'use it and lose it' sixties style!
By the late sixties Mattel realised that dollies should be as diverse as their owners and black Barbies finally made it onto the market
And their finger was so on the pulse that they even made a 'Twiggy' doll to cash in on the Mod trend all the way from Swinging London!
You know when you try out a look and you get so many compliments that you end up sticking with it for years and years? Hello 'Malibu' Barbie. This look from 1971 cemented her as the sun worshipping, blonde and she's never really shaken it off. Her classic aqua bathing suit, sunglasses and beach towel encapsulated the early 70s California sunshine vibe that was so popular and in one way or another has continued to be.
1971 Malibu Barbie-the original prototype for the golden limbed, honey haired beach babe
By the late 70s she'd kept the tan but lost the suit and become a full blown Disco Diva!
Superstar Barbie 1977
Peaches n Cream Barbie 1984
Here's the first one I remember. Every girl at school I knew had this beauty, I still remember the texture of her crazy paving bodice and how it looked after it had been kicking about in the bottom of a toy box for a few months.
I still have a fondness for peach chiffon.
Benetton Barbie and friends 1990
WOOO! I had this one! I loved her so much that SHE NEVER HAD HER OUTFIT OFF. I kept her completely in tact, bah, hat boots, socks earrings neckerchief and all. That's high praise indeed. I loved her crimped hair and the wild use of colour and pattern and she's probably what pushed me into pursuing fashion as my main interest. Thanks B!
The 90s saw a lot of stuff happening for Barbie, she had loads of careers, made lots of new friends from around the world, there was even a a Barbie released who was in a wheelchair, never more had she represented the massive social changes that were happening globally. Say what you like about her, I think she may have not always got it right but she's done almost as much good as she has caused damage (see: a world of crazy boob jobs and hair bleach) or at the very least, she tried. Since the 60s she's had a range of diverse friends, hundreds of different careers, mastered the skills to drive or pilot almost every type of vehicle, stuck it out (mostly) with her BF Ken (even with his strange hairstyle and pant choices) and all the while she's done it whilst on the cutting edge of fashion. I think she's alright.
Lots of love,