The best-dressed doll has this woman to thank.
To most women Barbie holds a special place in our childhoods. This was a doll that did not require diaper changes and feedings from a disappearing bottle. Instead, this doll was one of projection, where the player could pretend they were the fashionable young woman dressed to the nines. One of the real life women responsible for those iconic outfits that Barbie wore is Carol Spencer who designed for the doll for more than 35 years.
In 1963 Spencer was hired to become a fashion designer for the Mattel company and their Barbie line. With a degree in fine arts and a love of fashion she was well suited to the role, which was a novelty at the time.
As she explains in an interview, “At that time there were basically five jobs for women: nurse, teacher, secretary, clerk, wife-and-mother.” But, she knew right away after reading the job description that Barbie doll fashion designer was the job she wanted to have.
For over 35 years she took inspiration from streetwear, haute couture, and her own fashion sense to create the mod looks of the late 1960s, the space age looks of the 1970s, and even the kicky neon Barbie clothes of the 1980s and 1990s.
Spencer was responsible for the outfits for the Golden Jubilee doll, many of the early workout Barbies, the Totally Hair Barbies, as well as the early Gone with the Wind Barbie costumes. She also designed the outfits for the Mattel Donnie and Marie Osmond dolls.
In her home today Spencer has a collection of 500 vintage Barbie dolls on display and she has written a book about her creations called Dressing Barbie: A Celebration of the Clothes That Made America’s Favorite Doll and the Incredible Woman Behind Them.
While she came aboard the company too late to have created the 1950s super feminine Barbie looks, her designs were of the age and presented a woman with both taste and pop culture savvy.