Barbie Dolls, Fashion and Kindness

15 Feb

Growing up in the 60s, my friends and I were enamored of the newest toy, a Barbie doll, which were first sold in 1958.  I do not remember when I got my first one, but I was probably 7 or 8, in the early 1960s.  All I know is that the world of play time changed forever. 

At the time, we often were outside playing in our backyards or in the driveways or even in the streets!  Our homes in North Bergen, were close to each other making it was easy to get together. My neighbor, Dorothy, and I often played with our Barbies.  Each day we created a new story and chapter in the lives of our dolls.  It did not matter if we were indoors or outdoors, we could take our Barbies everywhere to play. 

The only one who was not enamored of our dolls, was my brother.  He and Dorothy were the same age, I am a bit younger, so the three of us often played together. Before Barbies, we would play ball in the driveways, or stoop ball in the front.  We had imaginary horses made by the cement fence that divided the property.  We would walk along the fence, we would dig in the backyards, we were often a threesome going on great adventures within the two backyards or along Third Avenue.

But the year the Barbies enter our lives, a major change began. My brother did not want to play with the Barbies and often would try to destroy our imagined home. Sometimes it was a war zone in our driveway, backyard or home, as he came through as the super hero/villain and wrecked havoc. Looking back as an adult, I know he felt left out. So I feel badly. But not then!

The other issue was my sister, who was four years younger. Dorothy was an only child and did not enjoy my mother’s instructions to allow my sister to play with us. It is really hard to be an older sister sometimes. Truthfully, we really did not want to play Barbies with her. It was just too difficult to plan our more ‘mature’ scenarios with a four-year-old. (Of course, now I am sorry we left her out.)

One way of avoiding these issues (known as my siblings) was to go across the street to Livia’s house.  She also liked to play with Barbies.  We did not play Barbies with her that often, but every once in a while we were invited into her home.  That was actually a big deal!  Livia’s older sister, Cheryl, had a birthmark that distorted one side of her face. It was red and wrinkly and stretched from the top of her forehead to her mouth, covering one side of her face.  The other side was perfectly normal.  Cheryl did not come outside to play.  But when we went to Livia’s house, Cheryl would often play with us.

The other interesting fact about their house was that their grandmother made the most fantastic Barbie clothes. WOW.  She made them for us as well.  Of course, Cheryl and Livia had the most extensive collection.  Why buy clothes, when their grandma could make the best?  I coveted those Barbie clothes.  I did have a few.  I am not sure if my Mom paid for them.  Or if Dorothy and I were given them because we would play with Livia and Cheryl and never said a word about Cheryl’s face.  My Mom made it very clear to me when I saw her once on the street, before I went over to their house,  that Cheryl was just like me and I was to be kind and polite.

So I was!  And Cheryl was just like us, but perhaps very shy. For me, Cheryl’s face became connected to homemade Barbie clothes in my mind.  Making them more precious because playing with Cheryl and being kind was so such an important directive in my home.

Recently I realized another connection.  My friend Dorothy and I still talk about growing up on Third Avenue and our childhoods in North Bergen.  In this conversation we talked about going over to Livia’s house.  We were remembering the wonderful Barbie clothes, when it hit me that Dorothy might have gone into fashion design and attend the FIT, because of the exposure to these magnificent Barbie clothes. And I asked, “Do you think it was these Barbie clothes that made you go into fashion?”  Dorothy’s response, “I never thought of that.”   But I think it did. Because she soon was drawing and making paper doll clothes all the time, then as she got older she was sewing and designing real clothing.   I think all from going to Livia’s house on Third Avenue.

Years later, when my daughter had her own Barbie dolls, I searched out craft people who made Barbie clothes and purchased many outfits for my daughter’s dolls.  My favorite was a doll dressed in the most glorious wedding gown.  It stayed high on a shelf in my daughter’s room with her doll collection.  The Barbie clothes, and her doll collection are now packed away in my basement.  Memories perhaps waiting for another generation.

Each time I purchased a doll outfit and dressed the Barbies with my daughter, I did think of ]Livia’s grandma, the time playing Barbies with the girls, and those beautifully made Barbie clothes in the 1960s.

10 Responses to “Barbie Dolls, Fashion and Kindness”

  1. Luanne February 15, 2022 at 11:33 am #

    A subject after my heart! I had a Miss Suzette because she was cheaper than Barbie, but could wear Barbie clothes. My grandmother was head fitter at the 28 Shop (couture) and was an amazing dressmaker. She made me the most gorgeous Barbie clothes I have EVER seen. A white satin wedding gown all hand-beaded with seed pearls. An copper lace cocktail dress with matching under sheath. After I moved out, my mother gave the clothes to my cousin on the other side of the family–without asking or telling me. When I asked for the clothes, my cousin had already thrown them out!!!!!

    • zicharon February 15, 2022 at 12:34 pm #

      That is horrible!! About the clothes being thrown out!!! I would have just cried. So sorry.

      • Luanne February 15, 2022 at 5:52 pm #

        I have cried about it. I am not sure I have ever gotten over it.

      • zicharon February 15, 2022 at 10:50 pm #

        Not quite the same, but I spent my sophomore year of college out of the country, leaving behind my favorite tapestry coat. While I was gone my mother cleaned out my room getting rid of my coat. I still think about that coat. It is over 45 years. So I feel your pain.

      • Luanne February 16, 2022 at 10:52 am #

        I’m crying for you!!! What is it with our mothers?!

      • zicharon February 16, 2022 at 10:55 am #

        Our house was much smaller. So I understand now that there was no storage. I might have to write a blog about that coat. Somewhere I have a photo of me in it!!!!

      • Luanne February 16, 2022 at 11:06 am #

        I would love to read it!

      • zicharon February 16, 2022 at 11:45 am #

        THank you. It will be next on my list!

  2. Sherry February 15, 2022 at 12:24 pm #

    Hi. Barbie, Ken, Midge, Skipper, Skooter, Christie, Allan, Tutti, Carla, Todd dolls!! Children’s librarian–me, retired and dolls. Porcelain, Asian, African American, cultural dolls!! Wonderful, beautiful and lovely. Thank you.

    • zicharon February 15, 2022 at 12:35 pm #

      Sherry, so glad you enjoyed this blog!

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