When toymaker Mattel introduced Barbie to the world in 1959, she wore a black and white striped one-piece bathing suit, donned white cat-eye frames, and cost $3. More than 350,000 dolls were sold that first year, launching a vast empire of dolls, of course, but also Dream Houses, accessories, movies, video games, and more.
For all the commercial successes, this 60th anniversary is also a moment to reflect on Barbie’s lasting impact, not only on young girls but also on the culture, more specifically fashion. Since 1959, Barbie has served both as a fashion icon herself—what with her signature pink getups, or don’t forget Malibu Barbie in her beachy blue!—and as a marker of the times.
As women’s looks and opportunities evolved from the 1960s onward, so did Barbie’s (she’s had more than 200 jobs). If fashion is a reflection of the zeitgeist, be it the political or social climate, Barbie has been the perfect vehicle to communicate changing times to the youngest generations.
Whether it was designer Jeremy Scott creating a collection of Barbie-inspired wears for the Italian fashion brand Moschino, or Mattel immortalizing Audrey Hepburn’s film characters, including Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with custom Barbies, there is no shortage of examples of how fashion designers have drawn inspiration from Barbie and vice versa.
Below, a look at how Barbie’s style has evolved in perfect sync with contemporary culture over the past 60 years