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Barbie dolls, wearing creations by Mexican designers, sit during preparations for an upcoming exhibit in Mexico City. Barbie has been used as a model or muse to famed fashion designers.
Barbie dolls, wearing creations by Mexican designers, sit during preparations for an upcoming exhibit in Mexico City. Barbie has been used as a model or muse to famed fashion designers.

Barbie is fashion, daaaaahhhling!

Clothes are largely, though not entirely, the point of Barbie.

She’s such a trendsetter that 50 designers paid tribute to her last month during New York Fashion Week. She has been model or muse to more than 70 famed designers including Calvin Klein, Dolce and Gabbana, Vera Wang and Versace.

Barbie always has been on fashion’s cutting edge, whether in her original black-and-white zebra-striped bathing suit, a Jackie O-inspired overcoat with matching pillbox-style hat, a big-shouldered power suit that transforms into evening wear or a Bob Mackie gown.

More than one billion fashions have been created for Barbie, her friends and family since she burst on the scene in 1959, Mattel reports, and more than 100 people collaborate to create a single Barbie outfit.

Anne Flanagan still prizes ensembles worn by her childhood brunette Twist ‘N Turn Barbie with the long, silky hair.

“My doll’s orange and brown fur-trimmed jacket and skirt, with to-die-for knee-high gold lame boots, took us on a journey to an imaginary mountain ski lodge where, when night fell, a surreal Barbie pajama party ensued,” says Flanagan, 48, of Allison Park, Pa. “Off came the fur number and on went the divine, flowing, powder-blue robe-and-peignoir set, trimmed in bright orange and replete with matching marabou-trimmed slippers.”

In addition to the Mattel-manufactured Barbie outfits, which retailed for $1 to $5 back in 1959, countless seamstresses, whether they were moms, aunts, sisters or neighbors, also contributed to Barbie’s wardrobe.

Donna Slusser’s first Barbie sits on a little wicker stool in her bedroom wearing a pinky-peach, brocade, strapless gown, which her mom had a seamstress make.

“I loved this dress,” says Slusser, 53, of Pittsburgh. “It’s like the dresses they wear to the Oscars.”

Debbie Julian’s mother made clothes for her redheaded Barbie and Skipper.

“Skipper even had a school uniform made from the same fabric that my school uniform was made from,” says Julian, 53, of Shaler, Pa.

Karla J. Cunningham had several hand-made ball gowns for her favorite — Diamond Barbie. One was poppy-colored, beaded and sleeveless. The other had hues of yellow, white and blue that overlapped like the colors in a Monet painting. She frequently plays Barbies with her 4-year-old daughter, but prefers her daughter play with older Barbie clothes.

“The new clothes are disturbing,” says Cunningham, 41, of Pittsburgh. “They’re so tight and so revealing. … It’s like a ‘Girls Gone Wild’ video.”

Many delight in Barbie’s accessories as much as her fashions.

“Mattel has given a lot of detail to the accessories and the little pieces,” says J. Michael Augustyniak, author of seven Barbie collectors’ books. “There was an outfit for Barbie in 1973 that actually came with an X-ray of the skeleton.”

Rose Anne Lyskava of Mount Lebanon, Pa., especially loved the tiny Barbie accoutrements, the American Airlines flight bag that came with the stewardess outfit and the diploma, hot water bottle, spoon and eyeglasses with the Registered Nurse uniform. Her best friend gave her a Barbie BBQ outfit — complete with a chef’s hat and apron with pockets to hold cooking utensils and a potholder — for a First Communion gift.

“Of course that gift had nothing to do with a Holy Sacrament, but in second grade it was a standout amongst all the prayer books, rosaries and religious statues I got!”

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