In A Barbie World

In A Barbie World

Unless you’ve been on social media hiatus for six months, you know that Barbie will be the movie of the summer, maybe even of the year.

Barbie’s official film trailer dropped yesterday, and it looks stunning. The point of view of the trailer alludes to a deeper story that the previous 2000: A Space Odyssey-inspired teaser did not hint at. This more informed snippet shatters any prior critique that has insinuated that a movie about Barbie can only be vapid and unchallenging.  It appears that director Greta Gerwig not only has a fresh plot that the audience can sink their teeth into, but we see more footage of this fully-realized world where plastic is, in fact, fantastic.

The film clearly utilizes color strategically. Shades of bubblegum pink, sky blue, tropical greens, and sparkles (yes, we are counting sparkles as a color here) inform much of the aesthetic that is classic Barbie. Hyper-feminine, joyous and lush, this color palette contributes to the rich scenery of Barbieland. When she descends from her three-story DreamHouse, palm trees and a warm mountain range create a frame of inviting color around her figure. The set is overall incredibly whimsical, and every piece has a visible shine to it, emulating the look of plastic. The design of the set hinges on symmetry that reflects a clean and refined image of Barbieland, creating a look of utopia that is almost certainly not a part of the Real World.

The styling of Barbie is a crucial part of the success of the released trailers and inevitably, the film itself. Barbie’s been around for a minute, and Barbie has always been a woman of fashion. This is definitely a film with distinct references, which we see immediately. The costume designer is Jacqueline Durran, known for her previous work in Little Women (also directed by Gerwig) and Disney’s 2017 remake of Beauty and The Beast. The show poster and many shots of the trailer show Margot Robbie in the iconic black and white bathing suit- the bathing suit worn by the very first Barbie doll released in 1959. We see a classic pink gingham dress and hair scarf, an iconic sailor’s outfit for the beach, and an all-pastel pink ensemble complete with a beret for the beginnings of Barbie’s epic journey - whatever it is. We’ve also seen an all pink rodeo Barbie, a sporty neon rollerblading Barbie, and a glittering sequin mini dress for dance party Barbie. Needless to say, the costumes for this film go hard into the Barbie aesthetic, and proves successful for such a quintessential part of the doll.

When the initial teaser and cast for Barbie was released, the internet seemingly exploded - a star-studded lineup playing multiple Barbie iterations implored many to take a deeper look at the history of the doll. The cast of characters included Barbies that were pretty unknown to its target audience. It reminds us how long the Barbie doll has been around. The Barbie doll first hit the shelves on March 9th, 1959, and this date certainly leaves room for many, MANY versions of Barbie that span the decades. Let’s take a look at some of the Barbies that have really intrigued the internet:


Barbie, played by Margot Robbie

The titular Barbie, also referred to as Stereotypical Barbie, is played by Margot Robbie and portrays the most common version of the doll. Originally marketed as the “Teen-age Fashion Model”, and was actually first introduced in both blonde and brunette versions. Barbie was the first doll toy with an adult figure, and was also deeply inspired by paper dolls. Robbie’s character has a bubbly and bright personality, enchanted by her everyday life and dressing for the occasion.

President Barbie, played by Issa Rae

Needless to say, everyone was VERY excited to see Issa Rae on the show poster not only as Barbie, but President Barbie. It is often assumed that most Barbie dolls are hourglass-figured, have fair skin, and long blonde hair. This has been a subject of scrutiny associated with the doll for many years. Many fans might be surprised to learn that President Barbie was first released in 1992, with re-releases in 2004, 2016, and 2020. Obviously including the iconic President Barbie was a must, and Issa Rae was an exciting choice for casting.

Dr. Barbie / Barbie, M.D. , played by Hari Nef

Barbie, M.D. first came out in 1973, a progressive iteration of the doll that came with scrubs, a lab coat, and stethoscope. Doctor Barbie is a great case study to show how the face painting of the dolls has evolved over time, as this version of Barbie has been re-released many times over the toy’s history. It’s fascinating to view the visual differences in eye shape, shadow, brow, and smile based on when each doll was released, as well as the continued importance of a little girl’s toy having a career in medicine.

Alan, played by Michael Cera

Alan is certainly a deep cut choice for the film that left many people wondering - who is he? The only male role on the show poster that is not defined as a “Ken”, and very specifically “Alan”. Where on Earth did he come from? Alan is in fact canon in the Barbie universe and was released in 1964, but bizarrely discontinued in 1966 after only two years. Alan is Ken’s best friend, and was marketed in a way that all of Ken’s clothes could fit him as well. He was also briefly intended to be married to Midge, but this was a more or less failed attempt to pitch “wholesome family life” at a time when Barbie was deemed “too adult” for children to play with. This is quite literally all the information known about the elusive Alan doll. It is fascinating to see this doll reappear as a role in the film, played by the incredibly deadpan Michael Cera. We’ll just have to wait and see what Alan has in store for us until the film hits theaters.

Midge, played by Emerald Fennell

The aforementioned Midge doll has an interesting story. Originally released in 1963 as Barbie’s best friend, Midge’s style was intended to have a more “girl-next-door” look with less makeup, freckles, auburn hair, and more homely clothing. This played a part into Barbie’s initial negative reception as “too adult” to be a children’s toy, as there was a more congenial-looking doll to compare her to. Midge also received backlash at this time for having a pregnancy belly. Despite Mattel’s intentions for a “family” set while paired with Alan, Midge’s youthful look drew concern for the promotion of teen pregnancy. She was rereleased again in 2002, but was deemed inappropriate yet again.

What else can be said other than Barbie seems to be hitting all the marks right now. The content so far has been rife with past fashion references, and a style that has resulted in a viral #Barbiecore wave. we’ll be on the edge of our seats until the film hits the theater in July. The trailer answers the question of Barbieland offering something bigger than itself, but keeping its most fascinating plot points and obscure characters well-masked.

What are your thoughts on Barbie? Follow us on Instagram @thisstylefiles to join our conversation about the film and its styling choices.

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