As a parent, I have observed that “age-appropriate” is a relative term; that is, relatives decide when a child gets a toy. The relative may be mom or dad, even grandparent, but especially the child herself. Yet for me, in the 1960s, the doll evolution determined the when and the age-appropriateness.
Christmas Day 1963, I had been twelve-years-old for one week. My present would be Barbie. Immediately I noticed that she had dark hair like my mother; Barbie was not the blonde doll I had requested. (I was blonde, but every baby doll I ever had were brunettes also.) No matter, Barbie had come to live with me.
My other gifts would be her attire. She arrived in an official box with her pearl earrings, black strappy heels, and that iconic black and white striped swimsuit. The rest of her wardrobe included a very sixties lounge outfit in a bold East Indian design, a fuzzy white coat, and a Dior-design dress with full skirt and little puffy sleeves. These out-of-the-box creations had been delicately hand-sewn.
Hand-sewn? That detail bonded me to my new friend. Her wardrobe would be no different than my own clothing. My mother, grandmother, and godmother made all my outfits (and would continue until I went to college). Each woman had a wonderful tailoring touch and eye for creative detail and color.
Besides, inside the Barbie box, was a booklet depicting her dream wardrobe. And dreamy were those drawings in bright drippy colors revealing the life adventures of a versatile, talented, independent, and creative young woman. All these visions captured what a twelve-year-old girl wants to know about her budding future as a woman.
Her hair, her make-up, her fabulous figure? These details never seemed to touch the reality of my life. Those clothes reflected life adventures and possibilities.
What I soon discovered, however, was that the $.25 to $.50 I was able to save each week would not be enough for the most amazing outfits and accessories. Even if I did manage to save $3.00 to $5.00, Woolworth’s had sold out what I planned to buy. Therefore I would have to go back to examples of versatility, talent, independence, and creativity of the women I knew in life.
In the early sixties, major sewing pattern companies – Advance, McCall’s, and Simplicity – created their own line of Mattel endorsed pattern designs. The cover art was as fun and clever as the “ready-to-wear” wardrobe booklets. Any smart and self-sufficient young woman could have all the designs she wanted for the initial investment of $.50 to $.75.
Despite all the protests and complaints about your possible mixed-messages to my unconscious, I remain your friend. The Barbie I knew helped teach an adolescent what real adventures in life we must take to grow-up amid any decade’s superficiality and conformity.