Campy Couture: Barbie's '70s Rivals Flaunted the Fashions We'd Love to Forget

July 7th, 2015

Pair Women

Pair Women

Maddie Mod, early 1970s. "Her stylish (?) wardrobe reflects both the best and worst of seventies trends."

Pair Women

Maddie Mod, early 1970s. "Her stylish (?) wardrobe reflects both the best and worst of seventies trends."


"Kenner’s early-seventies Jenny Jones & Baby John played on the matching mother and toddler gimmick, perpetuating a fashion fad that would reach a dizzying climax with pint-sized Pucci-esque pajamas and miniature vicuña coats."

Cult Couple

Young Sweethearts, Mattel, 1975. "Dewy-eyed innocence, fresh flowers, and fashion—who could ask for anything more? P. S.—there is a perfect aural accompaniment to these squishy images; listen to the Monkees’ Davy Jones describing 'The Day We Fall in Love,' if you don’t
mind a little nausea."


"A Tracy gift set comes with two additional outfits and lots of arrows on the box."

LJN Petite

"This Dawn-size LJN Petite doll has an even higher forehead than Dawn and super-extended lower lashes. She looks like a space alien in drag."


Petra, by Plasty, Germany, early 1970s. "The fascination with Petra for me lies chiefly in her formidable if somewhat musty wardrobe. The sixties/early seventies looks, when compared with Barbie’s superbly tailored turnouts, are clearly simplistic and inferior."


"This painfully thin Fred from about 1977 is actually an earlier version, probably leftover stock that was repackaged (a common Plasty practice). He wears a vivid cabana set and apparently beat out Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra for the Most Liquid Eyeliner award."


"In 1978 a newly remodeled Petra and her African-American friend, Donna Sommerwind, finally reach their chic peak with the elegant Haute Couture line."


"Petra Boutique outfits in decorative, slightly larger boxes from the mid-seventies. The black box graphics mix fashion figures in period dress with Pennsylvania Dutch–inspired motifs."

Pair Men

Marc, by Busch, Germany, 1979. "Marc was sold with and without a painted-on mustache. These two Marcs model a more recent stars-and-stripes homeboy duo called California and a tennis set with lavender stretch undershorts."


"Petra, Fred, and Peggy outfits came in small square boxes from 1964 to the end of the seventies. (The boxes had no window cello; the inner cardboard was wrapped in plastic.)"


Jem clone, 1980s. "Suddenly dolls rocked out on guitars and handheld
organs, had BIG hair in every color of the rainbow, and dressed in tight, cheap, plasticized clothes once thought only appropriate for hookers."

The words “authentic” and “Barbie” are not typically used in the same sentence, Barbie being one of the most famous symbols of fake femininity, and one of the main reasons why millions of little girls grow up to be women waging a constant battle to achieve a physically impossible body type. Compared, though, to the Barbie knockoffs in “Doll Junk: Collectible & Crazy Fashions from the ’70s & ’80s” by Carmen Varricchio (Schiffer Publishing, 2015), the original Barbie doll looks like she belongs in the Smithsonian. Oh, wait

For his part, Varricchio appears drawn to Barbie knockoffs and their fashion-backward clothes for their sense of camp, which makes flipping through the pages of “Doll Junk” a whole lot of fun. There’s the Dawn-size doll he describes as looking like a “space alien in drag”; the “conspicuously single” Jenny Jones, who dresses her son, Baby John, in an outfit that matches the traffic-stopping catastrophe she wears to work; Petra, a Barbie clone from Germany, whose “penchant for bust darts, three-quarter sleeves, and inverted pleats recalls a forgotten world of fine dressmaker details”; and Petra’s black friend Donna Sommerwind, who debuted in 1978 and obviously takes her name from the decade’s disco queen, Donna Summer. Varricchio also introduces us to a number of Ken clones, including Fred, who, he muses, “apparently beat out Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra for the Most Liquid Eyeliner award.” Great stuff!

2 comments so far

  1. Carmen Varricchio Says:

    Wow — What a great plug! Just wanted to say thanks for your kind words regarding my new book! Best Regards, C. V.

  2. Mani Says:

    Great article Ben and looks like a good book . Gotta love those 70’s clothes and a girl never had enough eyeliner :-) Enjoyed and will watch for book .

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