Thoughts of Barbie1
6/5/02 - slightly revised 11/22/05

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Barbina the Plastic Goddess (as I call her)

Given that 1) I don't like the impossible anatomy on most female action figures, and 2) I consider myself a feminist, it's hard to explain my interest in Barbie®. I think somewhere deep down inside me there's a little girl who likes to play dress-up, and the shape of Barbie's figure is kind of immaterial. The colors are pretty, appealing to my magpie self. Or maybe Barbie's a pro-choice, anti-gun, lesbian feminist, so it's not just a brainless, stay-at-home, torpedo-boobed, sex kitten we're talking about. Who knows? It's just one of those things, an unsolved mystery, a philosophical puzzle. As in Zeno's Paradox, the arrow just arrives, and there I am in the "pink aisle" at Toys R Us, or surfing the Barbie section of eBay.

Vintage Barbie dolls & clothes - A brief history

Barbie was introduced in 1959 as a ponytailed doll with curly bangs, in a few different hair shades.

How do I tell the difference between Number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 Ponytail Barbie Dolls?

#1 - 1959, White Irises, Blue Liner, Holes in feet.
#2 - 1959, Same as #1, No holes in feet.
#3 - 1960, Blue irises, curved eyebrow.
#4 - 1960, new vinyl used for body.
#5 - 1961, new hair texture, hollow lighter-weight Barbie body.
#6 - Has a Midge-Barbie Body.
--------------------------------------------(from Marl & B's Vintage page)

In 1961, the bubblecut hairdo was added.

In 1964, Barbie got new bangs to go with her ponytail: the "swirl" ponytail is born.

Also appearing: boyfriend Ken (1961), girlfriend Midge (1963), little sister Skipper (1964), Midge's boyfriend Allan (1964), Skipper's friends Skooter and Ricky (both 1965), in addition to Fashion Queen Barbie (1963, molded head with wigs), and Miss Barbie (1964, with molded head, sleep eyes and wigs).

Then in 1965-66 we have a very new look, a short pageboy hairdo in different shades, and instead of her overall rigid body, she had bendable legs! This doll is affectionately referred to as "American Girl". This doll was produced for only about a year and is very popular with collectors.

Francie doll was introduced in 1966 as "Barbie doll's MODern cousin". Hence the term "MOD", used to refer to dolls from 1966/67 to about 1972. Francie had the slim hips and small breasts that models like Twiggy were popularizing at the time. She got her own MOD wardrobe as well.

Barbie lagged behind fashion-wise until 1967, when she got a new face, hairstyle and a twist-n-turn (TNT) waist. This style of body is still in use today, which is why dolls have 1966 stamped on their butts -- This is the copyright date of the Barbie body, NOT the year the dolls were manufactured.

In 1972, clothing booklets were no longer included with fashions, and in 1974 the outfits generally stopped having names. Quality decreased drastically at this point. The outfits until approximately 1981 are called "Best Buy" and are numbered, not named. Some of these are interesting, but it's slim pickings. In 1978-79, higher-priced fashions called Designer Originals came out. These outfits were pretty elaborate and had names like Golden Firelight and Paint the Town Red. Other series such as Fashion Collectibles, Fashion Fun and Fashion Favorites began appearing at this time. Some outfits had names, some didn't. This proliferation of sets is hard to keep track of! I've read that fashion booklets were reintroduced in 1977, but finding photos of post-1974 outfits is difficult even so. Thank goodness for Volume 3 of Sarah Sink Eames' series on Barbie fashions, for 1975-80. It enabled me to delete a pretty sizeable collection of JPEGs of post-74 outfits, and free up a lot of disk space.

In 1977, the Superstar head mold was introduced. That's the one with the insipid smile I can't stand, and is the face on most Barbies even today. The permanently bent "karate chop" arms and embedded plastic rings and earrings also appeared then. Just say eww!

A big change for the better took place in 1997-98 with the introduction of the Bead Blast series. These pink box dolls (or play dolls, non-collector items) had a closed-mouth head mold and more realistic face paint. This trend appears to be continuing; more and more dolls are now issued with different faces and non-blond hair. Is the Superstar era at last over? I sure hope so!

As of late '99, the Fashion Avenue outfits started receiving names. My current favorite is Evening Star. I have Breakfast in Bed as well, primarily because it came with a miniature box of Godiva chocolates. Mmmm!

To summarize:

Broadly, "vintage" refers to dolls and clothes from 1959-1972 (and sometimes through to the late 70's). Finer distinctions also exist: purists restrict vintage to 1959-1965, American Girl and the 1600 series fashions define 1966, MOD arrives in about 1967, the Best Buy era extends from 1972-81, and then we have 1981-1997, a virtual wasteland (IMHO)! Notable exceptions to this wasteland include the 35th Anniversary reproductions of the 1959 Barbie (made in 1994). Then comes Bead Blast in '98, Pretty in Plaid in '99, and in 2000 it looks like things are only going to get better. (The new half-smile face is OK, not as nice as the closed-mouth, but better than Superstar.)

The mechanics of my collecting

Here's how I break down my Barbie interests: 1959-65, OK. I like the suits and the accessories, but not enough to pay a lot. 1966 was full of treasures. The 1600 series fashions, for one. When I get rich, I'll get more American Girls and Bend-leg Midges, a bend-leg Ken and Allan, more bend-leg Skippers and Skooters, and tons of Francie clothes. Aside from this very expensive part of my tastes, 1967-72 has the stuff I like the best. I got my first Barbie in 1969, and those are the dolls and outfits I still prefer. Groovy colors and funky shoes and long, straight hair (like mine!). 1973-1974 are mostly bad, with a few exceptions. 1975-1996 (especially the 80's - gag) is basically a write-off. For one thing, I became a teenager and lost interest in Barbie (though I did store my TNT brunette flip and her clothes carefully). For another, the clothes after '74 are just ugly! Not just the dolls' clothes, but people's, too. They were so bad, I'm surprised we weren't embarrassed to leave the house in them! Which is why I don't understand this 70's polyester fashion craze. It was horrible the first time around, why bring it back? (Yes, the rantings of a perplexed person over 40.) Even worse, I'm told that the 80's are now coming back! I've seen the leg-warmers... The horror. The horror.

The basic resource for modern-issue Barbie dolls is Mattel's Barbie Collectibles page. It is sometimes less than thrilling, but a hell of a lot better than it used to be. Now that Mattel is making nice-looking dolls at cheaper price points, I actually see things I want at TRU, and not just in the Collector cases. (Case in point: the Bead Blast and Pretty in Plaid dolls. A breath of fresh air across a sea of tired old faces, and Shani arms instead of the karate-chop style.) A lot of the clothes are still kind of sad: cheesy fabrics, velcro fastenings and appalling lack of accessories. The Fashion Avenue line has some good stuff, but I hate paying more for these. I'm nostalgic for the days before "Barbie pink", when there were buttons and zippers, and accessories were a given. Is it a coincidence that product quality decreased as this pink took over?

In 1997 I began searching in earnest for a Francie doll because the wedding dress I got in the 60's for my Barbie was in fact a Francie outfit. I didn't have a Francie when I was a kid, and Barbie's boobs were just too darned big for the dress! I went to the JMK Doll Show figuring I'd pay $60 for a nude vintage doll, put the wedding dress on her when I got home, and leave it at that. I found the Wild Bunch repro doll and snapped it up, but I left her in the box, and I didn't get my first redressable Francie until early 2000, on eBay. EBay, now that's a whole other story ... Can you say "addiction"?

The more I bought, the more my resistance broke down. As a result, I obtained a few high-end Barbies beginning in 1998. Several were gifts from Christine: Spring in Tokyo and Far Out Barbie prime among those. I got Spiegel's 1995 Summer Sophisticate on eBay for $20 plus shipping, and I also got Commuter Set for less than $40 total. I picked up a brunette Silken Flame Barbie on sale at KB for $15. And, thanks to my friend Paul whose huge collection I helped sell off a couple of summers ago, I also received the Fashion Luncheon repro I had coveted for a while. An American Girl at last, if only in reproduction. Sigh. She's pretty. And so's her pink satin suit.

Currently on my wish list, Goddess of Wisdom. Maybe a second Commuter Set doll to redress. I also like Dance 'til Dawn, the 1920's entry in the Great Fashions of the 20th Century series. And that's basically it. (That was three years ago... In 2005 there's a lot of great new stuff, including Fashion Fever outfits on tiny mannequins, and furniture sets that look sort of 60s-ish. I love that stuff. But I am running out of space in my Barbie room.)

I have a few Disney dolls in with the Barbies, too. They're essentially the same. I adore my 12" Super-Hero Mulan. The doll's got wicked large, flat feet that don't fit in Barbie's standard-issue high heels, so I found some "poseable" Barbie shoes, and they worked out nicely. She's got some sensible but stylish red flats to go with her flashy shorts ensemble. I also love Happy Meal Mulan, who came with two outfits and is totally cool. I got her Happy Meal-sized horse at a doll show in Dedham, MA in September '98. (What was I doing in Dedham? Uh, sleeping. At the Holiday Inn after a Red Sox game that we drove to Boston to see. And at checkout time, I found out there was a doll show down the hall! Is that great toy karma, or what?)

I kept waiting for the new Barbie doll with "realistic" body proportions announced by Mattel in 1998. It looks like this particular doll has been consigned to Beckyland. However, in the summer of 2000 she did get a new midsection which allows her to twist and bend more naturally, without the unsightly line around her midriff. The first doll sporting this new anatomical feature is called Jewel Girl. I didn't like those too much, but Vitamin C has the waist, too, and I bought her as soon as I saw her!

Vintage Barbie ID guide: Dolls 4 Play

1Barbie is a registered trademark of Mattel. I am in no way affiliated with Mattel.

Barbie Home Page
Vintage Barbie 59-66 | Barbie 67-75 | Barbie 76-85
Vintage Skipper | Ken | Francie
Vintage Missing pieces | Wish List
Modern Collection | Wish List
Reference Links | Books