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TWEAKS+inspirations : Barbie Bandwagon, 1

Did you dig out your Barbie dolls this summer? After all, it is the Summer of Barbie. Being of a certain age, I got my first Barbie in 1959, one of the 300,000 sold that first year. My Barbie was the original with an uncombable, cotton-haired yellow ponytail. For me, Barbie was always about fashion. "In the beginning, Barbie had sophisticated and stylish clothing with metal zippers and snaps. She was more Mrs. Maisel than Margot Robbie." So true Susan Stern, documentarian of Barbie Nation. Let's take a look at my well-used 60+ year old collection.

Barbara Millicent Roberts (model 2 - $3) came into my life on my birthday in 1959. She wore the now classic black&white striped swimsuit. Not to be outdone, my fashionable mom handmade most of her stylish clothes.

(This outfit was in better shape 64 years ago.) My mom sewed most of her own clothes so there were lots of scraps for Barbie clothes. At first, she free-styled outfits and eventually, there were actual patterns to purchase to which my mom added all kinds of embellishments. This royal blue wool coat, with real fur collar and matching headband, is lined with blue taffeta. Her matching taffeta dress has a belt of tiny pearls. What's not to love?

For me, Barbie fashion was my jam. I spent yesterday with my Barbies and their clothes and I was surprised at how many memories they brought back. Barbies picnicking at Cherry Lake (a big mud puddle a block over) with my cousin, Sue. And I remembered that my first Barbie wasn't my favorite. That cottony pony tail just didn't do it for me. But two years later, in 1961, Bubblecut Barbie (model 850 - $3) caught my attention. So modern and Kenndyesque. Barbie went from Prom Queen to Style Queen, all the while retaining her swimsuit figure.

My mom's sister, Aunt Helen, had 3 daughters - Jill, Jan & Sue. She, too, was busy creating Barbie clothes. Jill reminded me that her mom's hand-knit coat sweater was inspired by Jackie Kennedy. Sadly, I've lost the pill box hat.

In 1963, Midge (model 860 - $3) arrived. Who could resist those adorable freckles and that flip? She was certainly less sophisticated than Barbie. Mom made Midge a black brocade strapless cocktail dress with a fur stole.

Living in Oregon, Uncle Tom was a hunter. One year, we got exceptional leather outfits Aunt Helen made from a deer hide.

I didn't have very many real Barbie clothes. My beloved real Barbie wedding dress is long gone but I still have her wedding garter (in light blue above). I did get the lingerie set with a silky pink half slip and a monogrammed pink mirror. I made the sunhat out of a piece of waxed cardboard, crepe paper and net. (Hey, what's Ken's yellow towel doing in the picture? )

At some point, I must have bought my own Barbie as here's a receipt for $3 and an original foil wrist tag that hung on each doll's wrist. Guess I've always been a detail person but keeping the receipt is very nerdy for a kid. At that time, the only pink for Barbie was on the cover of the little booklets that came with each Barbie doll. There were no pink Barbie outfits or homes. Nothing! I've read that it wasn't until the 1970's when Barbie Pink truly came into the picture.

A booklet came in each doll's box, detailing each doll and every outfit. The original booklet, featuring Barbie alone, is above in my little collection. I had each outfit, complete with accessories and price, memorized. Each time a new outfit was introduced, it brought ooh's and aah's. Outfit ranged from $1.50 to $5. Barbie's wedding dress and Ken's tux ($5 each) were the most expensive. You really had to want Ken. Unfortunately, he wasn't as cute as his cartoon drawing. I was too young to think about Barbie dating Ken. Mainly, he was her escort when she went to stylish events.

Two years after Barbie made her debut, Ken (model 750 - $3.50) arrived on the scene. I got him as a gift in 1961, the year he came out. I never warmed up to Ken. His yellow-greenish hair was problematic "flocked" felt which rubbed off once wet. (By 1962, Ken's hair was molded plastic.) Ken had no personality but, I was over the moon when I received Ken's tuxedo ((#787 - $5). I've not completely dressed him as I want to show you the detail these clothes had. Each Ken piece had a sewn-in label. There was a pleated cumberbund. And tiny pearl buttons, shirt cuffs and real snaps and zippers. The suit even came with black socks - I have just one now and the bow tie is long gone.

Ken seemed as blah as his clothes. To be fair, how could he compare to the sophisticated Barbie with her exotic eye makeup, pierced ears and red polished fingers&toes? Never once did my mom (or me) sew Ken clothes. Besides the tuxedo, I had a few original outfits including seersucker pajamas with pearl buttons (the outfit came with a plastic glass of milk and cinamon roll) , a red cable-knit sweater and brown slacks, swimming trunks with cork sandals and yellow walking shorts with olive green knee high socks. Honestly, what cool guy ever wore knee-high socks with shorts?

The neighborhood girls knew each outfit, too, and I remember making a beeline to their houses once word got out that someone had a new Barbie outfit. I remember Bonnie had "Solo in the Spotlight." I couldn't bike over to her house quick enough. I was literally fashion-driven. One treasured gift from my mom was this 1961 zippered case filled with handsewn Barbie clothes. So thankful my mom and aunt creating special clothes for me every birthday and Christmas. My love of fashion started right there with Barbie's couture. And just like Barbie, I hope you're having a fashion-forward Sunday!

Next week - living in the 1960's Barbie world and the precursor teen dolls to the Barbie icon. Spoiler Altert : Barbie was not the first adult figured doll.

If you have a minute, please send me a comment (below) if you've got a Barbie story. Pictures can be sent to me at

PS - Check out the documentary, Barbie Nation, which premiered on PBS' POV program in 1998. It's worth a look. You can rent on Prime, etc. Here's the trailer -


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