The Barbie movie introduced the world to more than just a Barbie doll with blonde hair and blue eyes. In addition to Margot Robbie’s main character Barbie, it created a universe filled with powerful female figures - including President Barbie, Doctor Barbie, and Judge Barbie - and reminded young girls that they are capable of pursuing anything they want.
The movie went on to break records, becoming the highest grossing film of 2023 worldwide and the most successful release in Warner Bros history. As thousands showed up to the theatre for opening weekend, decked out in pink from head to toe, the movie also brought the fashion trend of “Barbiecore” to life - just in time for Halloween.
Barbie is planned to be one of the most popular Halloween costumes during the 2023 season. According to NPR, about 1.8 million people are planning to be Barbie. Thanks to the movie, the concept can be pretty easy, as long as there’s pink in your closet. Throw on a pink blazer and suddenly you’re President Barbie, or maybe wear a pair of pink swim goggles for Olympic swimmer Barbie.
The idea of wearing the staple Barbie pink colour goes back as early as the 1970s and 1980s, namely with the release of the Heathers movie in 1988. In the film, each of the popular girls (who are all named Heather) sport a singular colour blazer and plaid skirt, with one only wearing red, another green, and another yellow. Less than 10 years later, Alicia Silverstone’s yellow preppy outfit as Cher in Clueless became an instant classic.
This fashion trend has only recently been given the name of Barbiecore, says Darnell-Jamal Lisby, a fashion historian and curator for the Cleveland Museum of Art. “I think early on designers weren’t thinking about Barbie when it first came out,” he told The Independent. “Really, Barbie, a lot of the clothing adaptations were based on, you know, whatever contemporary presentations of fashion that were present at the time.”
In fact, the Barbiecore fashion trend is something that’s gone in and out of style many times over the years, but only recently did we give it the label. In reality, you can still embody Barbiecore without throwing on anything with the colour pink. “It’s probably not just about pink,” Lisby said. “It’s also about this kind of fantasy that you’re creating, this fantasy ... that you really want to kind of illuminate but in your own way, whatever that means to you.”
As beauty standards have changed over the years, so has the evolution of Barbiecore. While the style of Barbie dolls have shifted depending on the current beauty standard, she’s also played a great deal in influencing the unrealistic beauty standards of the time. Much like the Barbie doll, Halloween costumes for women have been known to perpetuate sexist stereotypes. For example, Forbes reported in 2019 that 88 per cent of women’s Halloween costumes showed skin compared to only 18 per cent of men’s costumes. This is in addition to varied marketing tactics, as the women’s costumes say “cute and sexy” on the package while male costumes use phrases like “strong and scary,” according to the outlet.
Dr Michele Ramsey, an associate professor of communication art and sciences and women’s studies professor at Penn State, wonders whether women who decide to participate in Barbiecore Halloween will perpetuate what some people view as a typical female Halloween costume, which may include plunging necklines and short skirts. The idea isn’t to judge anyone for dressing up that way if they so choose, but more so people associating Barbie with a required sexiness.
“It’s really important, I think in this piece of that conversation, to what extent do these folks feel like if I’m doing a Barbie costume I have to be sexy, right?” Dr Ramsey said. “If you think, well I mean it’s Barbie, she’s good looking. She’s this, she’s that, I have to be glamorous and sexy. Well, those are all the things that the patriarchy would prefer.”
Indeed, the patriarchy is something that the Mattel dolls of Barbie Land were forced to confront when Robbie’s character returned from the real world and the Kens had taken over. One of Barbie’s main critiques was that actor America Ferrera’s moving feminist monologue during the film was a watered-down, “Feminism: 101” explanation of social injustice. For Dr Ramsey, she acknowledged that the movie had restrictions but she wished it went further, especially when it comes to Barbie’s thin size or the scene when Robbie’s Barbie suddenly has flat feet. “I think that would have been a really good place to sort of take a jab at the fact that the proportions of that doll would on a human literally be impossible for that person to stand up straight,” she said.
There’s also an assumption that everyone participating in a Barbie Halloween costume is female, which Hazel Clark, professor of fashion studies at Parsons School of Design, is convinced is not as much of a clean-cut ratio as some people might expect. “That would be very interesting to see you know, I mean, people who identify as male, female, queer. Who will actually wear it?” she said.
If someone does decide to go all-out sexy Barbie, does that take away from the movie’s pro-feminism message and feed into the patriarchy? Well, it depends on who you ask. For Lisby, that answer is no. He believes it doesn’t do the opposite of the movie’s goal because Barbiecore was such a large part of the fashion inspiration for the film. “I think that, in this case, actually having it as a costume brings some light and encourages people to see this new evolution of how we are being inclusive of different ideas and how that’s expanded,” he said.
He added: “If that’s the message that’s certainly being carried currently, to put it in costume will only kind of expand those conversations and allow people to feel like they have a safe space to have those conversations.”
Despite the positive and possibly negative implications of walking around in a Barbie costume, experts agree that unless Greta Gerwig comes out with a sequel to the hit summer movie, Barbiecore won’t be a big Halloween costume idea next year.
“[Barbiecore] is a classic inspiration that comes back into fashion every decade or so,” Lisby said. “So I don’t really see it leaving fashion. Now the Hollywood Halloween costume thing, I don’t really see it going beyond this year unless there’s a sequel to the movie.”