NOT your mothers Barbie doll...

20 Handmade Dolls Tell the History of Fashion

This is the story of how a series of exquisite handmade dolls, representing the history of French haute couture made their way to the United States as an expression of gratitude.


The year was 1948 and France was still suffering from the effects of World War II. Housed in boxcars and dubbed the “Friendship Train”, American aide organizations had sent large-scale relief the year before.  Now it was France who wished to show its gratitude for America’s generosity by creating the “Gratitude Train”—a set of 49 box cars filled with French-made gifts, like handmade toys and priceless works of art.


The French fashion houses banded together to create something very special. They tasked their most talented designers with creating a set of fashion dolls that would show the evolution of French fashion.


Measuring 24 inches tall with bodies made from open wire, the designers used human hair to fashion the hairstyles.


Using period paintings, literature, and fashion plates as references, each designer chose a year between 1715 and 1906.


Representing their creative interpretations, the designers used the same level of care and attention to detail as they did for full size work.


It was a unique moment in the history of French couture.














































































































































































HEY WAIT !  It wasn’t my MOM’s Barbie…. It was MY Barbie.


I still remember getting my first Barbie… at the time, in the late 50’s, they had really classy clothes, of which my mom then went on a mission to make even classier clothes, and even knitting sweaters for her with toothpicks!  [I had a very cool mom].  I remember all those tiny little shoes :-O  And Barbie became just like any other child, growing up and wanting houses and cars.  I wonder if there was ever a ‘Doctor Barbie’… I haven’t found one.  It took until the millennia before it seemed Barbie developed a brain.


The Barbie Story


“My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”


-     Ruth Handler

(creator of the Barbie doll, shown left), on being inspired by her young daughter Barbara’s fascination with teenage life and love for fashion dolls.


Ruth and Elliot Handler founded Mattel Creations in 1945, and 14 years later, Ruth Handler gave the world the Barbie doll.  When asked her relationship to Barbie, Ruth simply replied, "I'm Barbie's mom."


The inspiration for Barbie came as Ruth watched her daughter Barbara playing with paper dolls.  Barbara and her friends used them to play adult or teenage make-believe, imagining roles as college students, cheerleaders and adults with careers.  Ruth immediately recognized that experimenting with the future from a safe distance through pretend play was an important part of growing up.  She also noticed a product void and was determined to fill that niche with a three-dimensional fashion doll. 


Several years and many designs later, Mattel introduced Barbie, the Teen-Age Fashion Model, to skeptical toy buyers at the annual Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959.  Never before had they seen a doll so completely unlike the baby and toddler dolls popular at the time.


Today, with a professional resume thicker than a phonebook, a circle of friends that rival any social network and a community of caring that spans the globe, Barbie continues to find new ways to inspire and encourage the next generation of girls.





Barbie’s debut as the “teenage fashion model” mirrored the sophisticated glamour of 1950s stars like Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth and Elizabeth Taylor, donning high arched brows, pursed red lips, a sassy pony tail with curly bangs and a coy, sideways glance. Even her figure was high fashion and model-esque, with pale, ivory skin, long slim legs and a narrow waist and hips. Barbie – though well known for her blonde locks – was sold as both a brunette and blonde.








As fast as 60s fashions evolved, so did Barbie from her famous bouffant bubble-cut hairstyle and fashions that mirrored First Lady Jackie Kennedy to the sleek hair and clothes of the multi-colored, swirling Mod era.


In 1960 Barbie sported softer looking eye makeup, a less arched eyebrow and blue irises for the first time. Also, Barbie was offered in a third hair color – “Titian”, a popular term for red hair at the time.


Her long lists of “firsts” also began with the introduction of Miss Barbie who featured “sleep eyes” that opened and closed, as well as the first time Barbie had bendable legs.














[I actually had this dress….]


Barbie doll’s diverse style reflected the 70s alternative lifestyles.  Skirts went from mini to maxi and hair styles were long and stright.


In 1971, Malibu Barbie debuted with a new face sculpt, including the addition of an open smile with pearly white teeth, and, thanks to the groundswell of the feminist movement and female empowerment, her sparkling blue eyes faced-forward for the first time.  Malibu Barbie was the ultimate surfer girl– suntanned with long, straight hair.


In 1977,  Superstar Barbie had a wide smile and fuller hair, blue shimmer eye shadow, brightly painted eyes, and pale pink lip gloss that were in-step with the glittering disco glam look found gyrating on dance floors across the country.






1981: MTV debuts and forever changes the music industry.  In 1986, Barbie has her own band– Barbie and the Rockers and she rocks the ‘80s scene with big hair and big shoulder pads.


Barbie & The Rockers took shoulder pads, scrunchies, big belts and leggings to a whole new level. 

Shattering the “plastic ceiling”, Day to Night Barbie became a briefcase-carrying power executive-by-day and date night ready by night. Launching the "We Girls Can Do Anything" campaign, Barbie reminded girls that the anything is possible. 














1992: Known as the “Year of Woman” in politics, 24 new women were elected into the House of Representatives and Barbie made her first presidential campaign debut. 











The “fab five” of the '90s now refers to Cindy (Crawford), Linda (Evangelista), Claudia (Schiffer), Naomi (Campbell) and Christy (Turlington) whose ultra-glam lifestyle reflected the pace of the decade’s race to the new millennium.


The 1992 Totally Hair Barbie the best-selling Barbie doll to date, celebrated the “big hair” craze and loud fashions of the early 90s. The doll featured the longest locks ever for Barbie, measuring 10½ inches.


With the new millennium just around the corner, Generation Girl Barbie took on a new sassy, edgy, street-fashion look.   And who could forget…..









Ahhh…. Ken 


And in 1998 she catches the eye of a famous fashion designer…










2004: In a time of celebrity power couples, makeups and breakups, Barbie created a bigger worldwide scandal when she broke up with long-time boyfriend, Ken.


2009: From her first-ever fashion show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week to a celebrity-filled birthday bash at her Malibu Dream House, Barbie celebrated her 50th anniversary in style.



















Also in 2000, Jewel Girl brought Barbie natural looking makeup a more athletic physique, a bendable, flexible waist and her first belly button.















But like every new era…. Even Barbie needed to keep up..




















and finally…. They at least give her a brain in 2016











Game Developer Barbie….

and…. I was wrong.  There WAS a Doctor Barbie

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a really hot Doctor Barbie

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                                                                     © Michelle Young 2012