Whenever I needed a Barbie "club outfit," I'd cut up some electric tape from my dad's toolbox and fashion it into a LBD. Little did I know that literally everyone was doing some form of this technique I thought I invented. It was like a Herve Leger design before Herve Leger, but more so a way to avoid harassing my mom to buy more clothes.
In the '90s, there were so many outfits to choose from, much more of course than Mattel's initial offerings. Just five years into her existence, in 1963, photographer Allan Grant snapped all of Barbie's 64 outfits for a LIFE spread (above). Barbie turns 56 today and looking at those ensembles now, it's clear (again) just how narrow-minded and whitewashed the options were back then.
At the time, Barbie's entire closet was worth about $136, and her most lavish get-up was a ballgown valued at a whopping $5.
If little girls were basing their future career aspirations on those attained by their 11.5-inch plastic counterparts, they could set their sights on being a business executive, stewardess, ballerina, nurse or babysitter. Oh, and they had to be white.
In the following years, Mattel steadily increased Barbie's career options, adding student teacher and astronaut in the 1960s, surgeon in the '70s, and everything from McDonald's cashier to presidential candidate since then. Barbies of other races were also introduced to the line, although early dolls were criticized for using white head molds and changing skin color, but not other features.
Barbie has since undergone numerous, sometimes weird, transformations to bring her into the new-age and diversify the lineup. There are a million outfits now. I was always just grateful for some little black tape, a life savior.
Image by LIFE photographer Allan Grant via Time
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