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Barbie’s fashion influence lives on

March 13, 2010
By CARRA HIGGINS, Staff Writer

Earlier this week - March 9 to be exact - one of the world's fashion greats celebrated her 51st birthday. We met this teenage fashion super model long before we knew Lesley "Twiggy" Hornby, Linda Evangelista, Kate Moss and Gisele Bundchen. She's influential and controversial, yet her legacy to young girls' (and others') imagination and love of clothing endures. She's plastic and ageless. She's Barbie.

Barbie Millicent Roberts is the brainchild of the late Ruth Handler, a co-owner of Mattel, who introduced the idea during the 1959 New York Toy Fair as an alternative to baby dolls, expensive porcelain collector dolls and flimsy paper dolls. Although some were skeptical of the "Barbie" idea at first, the concept and tradition has persisted and evolved over the years. Being inexpensive may have helped -the first Barbie, in her black and white striped bathing suit, was only $3. To celebrate her birthday Mattel offered "Super Star" Barbie, this week only, for the 1959 price.

In the book "The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived," she's ranked 43rd; but her entry is somewhat critical. The authors write that the 11-inch plastic doll creates unattainable beauty standards and provokes "thoughtless sexism, materialism and selfish political and social amorality." Perhaps because of these outcries from feminists and others, Mattel has somewhat changed her looks. In 1997, Barbie's manufacturer rounded her face, reduced her bust and thickened her waist.

As a child of the 1980s, my Barbies had too much blue eyeshadow, big hair and clothing that thoroughly embodied the decedent decade. Thoughts about being as thin as Barbie never crossed my mind. Instead, it was all about the clothes. (I certainly don't deny having wanted her fabulous, stylish wardrobe.) My affinity for dumping a giant bag of her clothing and accessories on the floor and carefully planning each doll's outfit is undoubtedly one reason I love fashion and clothing.

With so many outfit options, she reflects and shapes our style or what we want it to become. Into high fashion? The country and western look? The power suit? Or what about fashion history, famous movie dresses or even a take on Goddesses? Barbie has you covered.

Between the outfits in which Barbie came dressed to the packages of extra clothing available, she probably had more clothing than her owner. We usually only dress ourselves once or twice a day, but for Barbie the possibilities are endless: pedal pushers and peasant tops, evening gowns for a night on the town with Ken, bathing suits, business suits, denim and cowgirl hats, the list goes on. Barbie helps appreciate all forms of fashion and incorporate everything from glitzy dresses to jeans and T-shirts into our wardrobe and know the appropriate attire for all occasions.

All that experience dressing Barbie as a child transcends time and stays with you long after the last playdate. The next time your standing amongst racks of clothing in a store, think about who or what helped your skills with color matching or what kind of top goes with a certain style of pants or skirt.

Even past and modern designers see Barbie's fashion power. Perhaps because there's no better way to make their name known to masses. Fashion houses including Christian Dior, Ralph Lauren and Carolina Herrera have dressed her and Christian Louboutin (famous for his fabulous footwear) is associating his name and brand with the new "Dolly Forever" Barbie. "Dolly Forever" is dressed in a khaki safari jumpsuit dress with a belt and fuchsia sunglasses with matching thigh-high fringed boots with the signature red soles. She also comes with several other pairs of Louboutins, complete with boxes and dust bags in which to store them.

If you want to revisit your childhood and see plenty of current collectible and fashionable Barbies, check out It's Mattel's official site for collectors, but it's also a great walk down memory lane for those of us who still appreciate her influence and timelessness. And if you've ever wondered which Barbie you are, there's a fun quiz to determine your "Barbie Doll Personality." Barbie also has a fanpage on Facebook with more than 300,000 fans, most of whom are adults.

One of the most endearing qualities of Barbie is that she dares girls to dream, and as adults she still allows us to love fashion and feel young again. Although Barbie never really lived, she'll continue to live in the hearts of millions as an enduring fashion icon who'll continue to make clothes and being a girl more fun for future generations.



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