All girls, living anywhere in the world, have had at least a Barbie doll or two, if their parents could afford to it for them. And there have been countless replicas that have been just as popular as the original 54 years old doll — yes, our slim and ever evolving Barbie is that old. She debuted in the world of toys as a fashion model on March 9, 1959.
But what is so special about Barbie dolls that they have become so popular the world over and have been little girls’ favourite for so long? Well, part of secret lies in the dolls themselves and part of it is simply very smart marketing and updating techniques by the makers of the dolls.
Ruth Handler and her husband George, had a toy making business and Ruth came up with the idea of Barbie because she felt that the dolls available in those days were designed as babies and so girls had limited options as far as dolls were concerned. She is also said to have noticed that when her teenaged daughter preferred to play with paper dolls that were like adults in appearance.
The Handlers saw the potential for making a new kind of dolls and their company, Mettal, Inc. produced these dolls that were first presented to the world at the American Toy Fair in New York.
The price of the first Barbie was $3, a reasonably high price tag more than 50 years ago. Additional clothing items could be bought at different rates, depending on how ‘fashionable’ the clothing was.
Barbies over the years
There have been various different types of Barbies but generally her body hasn’t changed, except for the addition of movable body parts and a larger waist, mainly due to the criticism that Barbie dolls were sending the wrong message to girls that only a very tiny waist was acceptable.
There have, however, been a lot of changes in her face, hair and colour. One major feature of the early dolls were the demure sideways-looking eyes that were later changed to look forward from 1971 onwards, making Barbie appear more confident.
Barbie dolls made during 1959 to 1966 are considered to be Vintage Barbies and those from 1967 to 1973 are Mod Barbies. Between 1971 to 1976 came the Malibu Barbie and in 1977 appeared the Superstar dolls, fashioned after the very popular Farrah Facwett, and the 1980s, with the domination of the disco and rock era, saw the Superstar dolls fashioned as rock and dancing stars.
The first Black Barbie hit the market in 1980 and in 1988 Mattel began producing Collectible Barbies for adults, mainly those who played with these dolls as children and had now grown up and still wanted to have a Barbie doll collection. These were mostly Vintage Barbies.
In the 1990s, the Superstar face of Barbie characterised by a big toothy smile and usually tons of long blonde hair, was replaced by Mackie face, a more sophisticated face designed by Bob Mackie. Silktones, a fashion Model Collection, was introduced in 2000 with the vintage Barbie face.
From 2001, Barbies were classified using label colours. These are as follows:
Pink Label — for play line or inexpensive dolls that are available at most places.
Silver Label — collectible dolls with no more than 50,000 produced worldwide.
Gold Label — limited editions of dolls, with only 25,000 worldwide or less, available at select stores.
Platinum Label — exclusive dolls are sequentially numbered editions with less than 1,000 available worldwide and can be purchased at few Barbie dealers.
Black Label — for adult collectors only (the minimum age limit is 14).
Full name: Barbara Millicent Roberts, the name Barbie was coined from ‘Barbara’, Handler’s daughter’s name.
Family: Four sisters — Skipper (introduced in 1964), Tutti (1965-1971, twin sister of Todd), Stacie (1990, later introduced as Kelly in 1991), Krissy (1995). Brother: Todd (introduced in 1991).
Mother and father, Margaret and George, only appear in some Barbie story books but have not turned up as dolls yet.
Pets: There are over 43 pets including 21 dogs, 12 horses, three ponies, six cats, a parrot, a chimpanzee, a panda, a lion cub, a giraffe and a zebra.
Cars: Barbie owns some of the best cars in the world, including pink convertibles, trailers, jeeps and sports cars.
Careers: Barbie has more than 100 careers! She is a qualified pilot who flies commercial aeroplanes, is also a flight attendant, besides being an astronaut, doctor, US president, fire fighter, lifeguard, police officer, rock star, teacher, Olympic gymnast, astronaut, cowgirl, beauty pageants contestant, and DC Comics and Marvel Comics super-heroines and villainesses, (Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Batgirl, Supergirl and Poison Ivy)!
Friends’ of Barbie: Teresa (a Hispanic), Midge and Christie (African-American. Ken and Blaine (an Australian surfer) have been her boyfriends.
Vintage Barbie dolls
For collectors and Barbie doll fans, the dolls that were produced between 1959 and 1972 are Vintage Barbies, with two more categories within this — Classic Vintage dolls (from about 1959 to 1967) and Mod Barbie dolls (1967 to 1972). Manufactured in Japan, the quality of these dolls were better than the later ones which were manufactured elsewhere.
The classic dolls came dressed in classic 1960s dresses, gowns and capris, and the hair was styled in ponytails, upswept dos and bobs. The look of Mod Barbies was modified with long hair, bands and lashes, and they were dressed in more youthful styled dresses and pantsuits.
Some of the notable Vintage Barbies are Vintage Barbie Ponytail dolls (1959-1966), Vintage Barbie Bubblecut Dolls (1961-1967), Fashion Queen Barbie (1963), with moulded painted hair and three wigs, Barbie Swirl Ponytail (1964), Miss Barbie (1964) and American Girl Barbie (1965 – 1966).
Among the Mod Barbie dolls are Twist ‘n Turn Barbie Dolls (1967-68), Talking Barbie (1968 — 1971), Dramatic New Living Barbie (1970, with bendable knees, ankles and elbows and could swivel at the waist, legs, neck, arms and hands), Sunset Malibu Barbie (1971 — 1977), Busy Barbie (1972, had hands with thumbs that can grasp all of her accessories), and Miss America dolls.
Miss Barbie (1964)
This was the first doll with bendable legs and the only one with eyes that could open and close. She was also the first to have moulded hair instead of rooted one. Her accessories contained three wigs!
American Girl Barbie (1965-1966)
This is the most glamorous and sought-after Vintage Barbie and also contained Colour Magic Barbie that had either golden blonde or midnight black hair that could be changed to scarlet flame or ruby red when a solution that came with the dolls was applied. The makeup of these dolls was also very bright to go with the style theme.
Vintage Barbie Bubblecut Dolls (1961-1967)
Inspired by first lady Jackie Kennedy, the doll had a short hairstyle called a bubblecut.
Skipper is Barbie’s little sister, ‘born’ in 1964 and supposed to be a 10-year-old, later a teenager and retired (stopped being made) in 2003. Skipper’s look and body style changed many time and was 9.25 inches tall. Later, as a teen, the doll was taller, the early Skipper dolls of the 1960s are considered to be better than later ones.
Did you know…
• Barbie dolls weigh 7.25 ounces, and are 11.5 inches tall.
• Barbie’s first bendable legs appeared in 1965, and eyes that open and shut.
• In 1967, a Twist ‘N Turn Barbie was released that had a moveable body that twisted at the waist.
• The first Barbie dolls were manufactured in Japan and the clothes hand-stitched by Japanese home-based workers.
• Around 350,000 Barbie dolls were sold during the first year (1959).
• Her favourite shade of eye shadow is brown.
• To date, over 70 fashion designers have made clothes for Mattel, including Versace, Gucci, Calvin Klein and Galliano.
• Army Barbie, introduced in 1992, was a medic Sergeant enlisted in Desert Storm.
• The first Olympic athlete Barbie was introduced in 1975 and was launched again as an Olympic swimmer in 2000.
• Summit Barbie dolls (1980s) commemorated the end of the cold war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
• Barbie doll came out as a presidential candidate in 1992 and ran again in 2000.
• The military series of Barbie dolls, Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps went through approvals by the Pentagon to ensure the most realistic costumes.
• Italian was the first nationality Barbie doll represented in the Dolls of the World Collection.
• According to estimates, every second two Barbie dolls are sold somewhere in the world.
• Barbie doll has represented 45 different nationalities.
• The first black and Hispanic Barbie dolls were introduced in 1980.
• Freundshcafts (Friendship) Barbie was introduced in 1990 to commemorate the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.
• The best selling Barbie doll ever was Totally Hair Barbie, with hair from the top of her head to her toes.
• Ken doll was named after the son of Mattel founders Ruth and Elliot Handler.
• Barbie doll has had more than a billion pair of shoes and over one hundred new additions to her wardrobe annually.
• Barbie doll’s signature colour is Barbie pink.