Longtime readers of PopCult probably know that your humble blogger is a collector of vintage GI Joes…the big guys from the 1960s and 70s, not the little guys from the 80s.
However, that does not mean that I hate Barbie. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. I appreciate that GI Joe would never have existed without the mega success of Barbie. She has some cool vehicles that can be used for GI Joe (after a paint job, most of the time), and when they reissued the first Barbie Dream House a few years ago it made for a spectacular Adventure Team “Mystery of the Midcentury Bungalow” playset.
2023 has been the year of Barbie, with her movie being the biggest-grossing of the year, her toy sales going through the roof, and interest in the 64-year-old fashion icon higher than ever.
So today The 2023 PopCult Gift Guide spotlights three (maybe more) things that would make great gifts for the Barbie fan on your shopping list.
The Barbie Movie
Available anywhere movies are sold, in a variety of formats
This is what sparked the 2023 Barbie explosion. Barbie is a brilliant movie that has no right to be this good. Greta Gerwig took what could have been a high-concept, low-quality toy-tie-in movie and delivered a spectacular film that manages to push everybody’s buttons. Margot Robbie is fantastic as the lead Barbie, and Ryan Gosling is perfect as a feckless Ken gone mad with patriarchal power.
The film manages to celebrate and satirize Mattel’s famed fashion doll. The movie straddles fantasy and reality and uses Barbie, who was once villified by feminists as being too unrealistic and shallow, as the ultimate female hero who breaks free of stereotypical expectations and becomes a fully-realized human being.
The movie has elements of Toy Story, Pinocchio, Legally Blonde, Thelma and Louise, The Hudsucker Proxy, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and combines them into a compelling and entertainment movie filled with bright colors, wry humor, a bit of slapstick, a lot of satire and some pretty wild musical numbers.
This is one of those rare instances where the highest-grossing movie of the year is also one of the best
Recommended for anybody who hasn’t seen it yet, and a lot of folks who want to see it over and over.
A Celebration of the Clothes That Made America’s Favorite Doll and the Incredible Woman Behind Them
by Carol Spencer
ISBN-13 : 978-0063310919
$29.99 (discounted at Amazon)
This book is an engaging first-hand account by the woman who was Mattel’s chief designer for clothes for Barbie from 1963 to 1998. It’s an intriguing look at the design process and marketing philosophies that took the iconic fashion doll from the Swinging Sixties, through the Malibu Barbie period, into the Disco and New Wave years, to where she was preparing to enter the new millenium.
Carol Spencer worked for several years as a fashion designer and illustrator in the apparel industry before beginning her illustrious career at Mattel as a fashion designer for Barbie in 1963. For thirty-five years, Carol created thousands of designs for the iconic doll and watched as Mattel grew from a small business into a multi-national conglomerate. From seeing Paris fashion shows to running the Hong Kong design group in the 1980s, Carol has been around the world with Barbie. Since retiring in 1998, she has continued to reside in Los Angeles with her impressive personal collection of Barbie dolls.
If you’ve ever seen a Barbie from the 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s, chances are that Barbie was dressed in one of the thousands of designs created by Carol Spencer during her reign as a Barbie fashion designer spanning than thirty-five years. Dressing Barbie is a dazzling celebration of the clothes that made America’s favorite doll, and the incredible woman behind them.
Illustrated with more than 100 full-color photographs, including many never-before-seen images of rare and one-of-a-kind pieces from Spencer’s private archive, Dressing Barbie is a treasure trove of some of the best and most iconic Barbie looks from the early 1960s until the late 1990s. Along with behind-the-scenes stories of how these designs came to be, Spencer reminisces about her time at Mattel working with legendary figures such as Ruth Handler, Barbie’s creator, and Charlotte Johnson, the original Barbie designer, for a full, inside look into life with the beloved doll.
Over the course of her career, Spencer won many accolades. She was the first designer to have her signature on the doll, the first to go on a signing tour, the first to design a limited-edition Barbie for collectors, and the designer of the biggest selling Barbie of all time. Now, she is the first member of the inner circle to reveal the fashion world of the quintessential California girl as never before.
Dressing Barbie is recommended for any fan of the Barbie doll, and also for collectors and folks who have an interest in the inner-workings of Mattel during the heyday of the Ruth Handler years. Available from any bookseller by using the ISBN code.
Okay, I had to recommend at least one actual Barbie doll, but instead of choosing one of the more expensive dolls based on the movie, I’m going to punt a bit and suggest that you explore the budget-priced Fashionista line.
With prices ranging from around eight bucks to around eleven (with some higher-priced packages in the mix), this is an affordable way to give a gift to a child or to an adult who wants to relive a bit of their younger years.
The great thing about the Fashionistas line is that there are dozens of styles of Barbie and Ken from which to choose, and it might be the most inclusive toy line ever created. The dolls come in a variety of skin tones and body types and they have many ethnicities represented in their facial features. They’ve even issued Fashionista Barbies with physical differences like alopecia, vitaligo, prosthetic limbs and more. Earlier this year they even released a Barbie with Down’s Syndrome. There have been several versions of Barbie and Ken in wheelchairs, too.
Representation does matter, and this is a great way for kids to have dolls that look like themselves. It’s also a great way to normalize acceptance, which is a good side benefit.
Even handier, in terms of holiday gift shopping, these are pretty easy to find anywhere. I’ve provided links to retailers with the best prices above, but you can find these at almost any retailer that sels toys, even grocers and pharmarcies.