Written By: Eliza Berman
In honor of Barbie’s fifth birthday in 1963, LIFE photographer Allan Grant photographed each of her 64 outfits, from evening gowns to beachwear to a pitifully limited array of career options. 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 five years since she hit the market, Barbie had become a national sensation. She received 500 letters each week and had a national fan club. Fashion writers wrote about her wardrobe. She was also, LIFE noted, “the despair of nine million fathers who now find that Barbie has to be clothed just like wives and daughters.”
The entire wardrobe could be purchased for $136, equivalent to just over $1,000 in today’s dollars. Barbie’s most expensive outfit (red velvet coat and taffeta ball gown) rang in at $5, two dollars more than it cost to buy the doll herself.
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.
And in 2023 it became time for Barbie to hit the big screen.
Barbie may only be a toy, but the messages children pick up from playing with her can stay with them long after they put her to sleep in her Barbie Dream House. Now if only something could be done about those proportions.