Doll Enthusiast Rashida Renée Breaks Down the Fashions of Barbie
After a screening of Barbie, we wanted to investigate the return of Barbiecore, so we spiraled with IRL Barbie girl and fashion archivist Rashida Renée—aka @howtobeafuckinglady—about the on-screen fashion and her rarefied doll collection. After finding her gateway Barbie in a San Francisco garbage pile, Renée was a doll convert, and began amassing a personal collection of Black Barbies in her youth. “In my mind,” she told us, “these are my girlfriends.” Using her encyclopedic doll and fashion knowledge, Renée spilled on all the film’s gestures toward Barbie history, from the contentious (gay) Earring Magic Ken to Karl Lagerfeld’s Barbie-themed Spring ’95 collection for Chanel.
MEKALA RAJAGOPAL: Should we go camera on?
RASHIDA RENÉE: I look crazy right now.
RAJAGOPAL: That’s fine. So how did you get into collecting Barbies?
RENÉE: We’re a doll family, so me and my cousin Jade, that was what we did. Her dad was a garbage man in San Francisco and people throw out the craziest stuff. One day he came home with all of this completely intact Barbie stuff from the early ’80s. That was what ruined me for life. Three or four years ago, I started really collecting again, because I had stopped and I was spending all my money on clothes. I’ve always been a Barbie girl, so this movie was big.
RAJAGOPAL: What does your collection look like now?
RENÉE: It’s modest. I feel like real collectors buy everything. I only specifically buy the Black Barbies. A lot of the Black dolls cost more than the white ones do, because they only make a limited amount. So a white doll could be $50, but the Black version of it would be $200. Three or four dolls, that’s an SSENSE sale.
RAJAGOPAL: That’s crazy. We both saw it on opening night. I went to the late show after a couple drinks but I was definitely the most sober person in the room.
RENÉE: I went with my mom, because my mom was my Barbie enabler. I went at three o’clock in the afternoon on Thursday and I was surprised because I kept seeing families come in with small little girls. I don’t think they did the research.
RAJAGOPAL: What did you wear to the show?
RENÉE: I wore my Beyoncé T-shirt and some Versace shades. I was not wasting an outfit on these people. They didn’t even have the box.
RAJAGOPAL: Same, it was disappointing. So I wore black. Was the fashion what you expected?
RENÉE: It was very peak Barbie era, the late ‘50s through the ’80s. That’s what I think of when I think of Barbie, almost like retrofuturism.
RAJAGOPAL: I did notice a lot of mod ‘60s shapes. I read earlier that Margot Robbie wore a custom replica of a ’60s Barbie dress to a premiere. Is there something special about that era of Barbie?
RENÉE: Barbie was introduced in 1959, and her first job was a fashion model. So it’s a really true reflection of the trends of the ’60s. She had all the mod clothes, she had the bubble haircut. When Margot Robbie was doing the press tour, she was hitting all of the iconic Barbie eras—even some of the ’90s Barbies like Totally Hair Barbie, which is the highest selling Barbie.
RAJAGOPAL: It definitely seemed like they sourced a lot of the costumes and textiles to replicate real Barbies. Did you recognize any of the Barbie looks?
RENÉE: I liked that it wasn’t too referential and that all the principal characters had unique costume design, but there were some Easter eggs. I saw a Day to Night Barbie and a Superstar Barbie from the late ‘70s. A background character had one of those looks on. Like I mentioned, Totally Hair Barbie. I don’t know if we’re doing spoilers with this.
RAJAGOPAL: Why not? I feel like everyone’s watched it already.
RENÉE: There was a scene when they were talking about all the discontinued Barbies. That was my favorite part, because those are all Barbies that were controversial, like Earring Magic Ken and Growing Up Skipper.
RAJAGOPAL: “Her boobs inflate!”
RENÉE: The Video Girl Barbie, which the FBI had to tell Mattel to take off the market because it can be used to record children.
RAJAGOPAL: Oh my god.
RENÉE: I loved these recreations because they were so exact. But I’m a label whore, so I was more interested in all the Chanel.
RAJAGOPAL: Going in, I was thinking, “Okay, where’s the Chanel?”
RENÉE: She had on a Chanel snowsuit when they were traveling, and two Chanel suits in the opening scenes. There was a Chanel dress she wore with the heart bag and the necklace from Spring 1995. They call that Chanel [collection] show the “Barbie show,” so it was very appropriate. But I want to congratulate Margot Robbie for beating the Chanel contract curse. They always say the girls start dressing bad once they get a Chanel contract. And she did not. She twerked that. They went into the Chanel archives and made this fab and not all the way granny. It was something your grandma would approve of you wearing, but you still look hot in. That’s the best you can do with Chanel. It’s grandmother approved, but you still doing your big one.
RAJAGOPAL: You might be covered up, but your tits are hanging out.
RENÉE: Literally. Or your ass looks crazy good. So shoutout to the costume designer [Jacqueline Durran].
RAJAGOPAL: Do you have any favorite looks from the movie?
RENÉE: There was this one look that Hari [Nef] wore towards the end. It was this pink dress and long gloves with fluffy things on them. I don’t know what the fuck that was, but it was fab. Another look that they only showed her briefly in was a pink dress with this huge pink bow that was ridiculous and completely Barbie. There was a blue Chanel suit Margot wore. And there was an outfit that Margot didn’t wear, the disco outfit that Ken had thrown out of the house. All those clothes that he threw out are actual Barbie clothes, by the way. And there was a really simple white top and shorts that Margot had on in the scene where Ken was playing the guitar. She just looked really hot in that.
RAJAGOPAL: Seduction Barbie.
RENÉE: Oh, but my favorite look was the red mini dress that Issa had on when they came back to Barbieland and she was serving them beer.
RAJAGOPAL: I hate that all the patriarchy Barbie looks were tearing.
RENÉE: Right! I was like, “I don’t wanna like this.” Those cute little maids and cheerleaders. They’re male gaze outfits.
RAJAGOPAL: There was also a big cowboy western theme.
RENÉE: I can’t tell you how many different western Barbies there are. It’s at least five.
RAJAGOPAL: Are there any Black cowgirls?
RENÉE: Yeah. Here’s the thing, Barbie has different Black characters, so there’s Christie, Nikki, Asha, Shawnee, Michelle, Janet. But then there is a Barbie that is just Black Barbie. So there’s some Barbies that are just Black Barbie, and there’s some that are Black Barbie, but it’s Christie. Which is confusing, but not if you think of Barbie as every woman.
RAJAGOPAL: It was the same in the movie, where all the girls were called Barbie and all the boys were called Ken, but they were all different people.
RENÉE: That was my favorite part. Everyone was Barbie. So it was funny seeing people complain about the feminist message in the movie when Mattel has moved in that direction for at least the past decade. People were really mad at the sexy doll. Now she’s more child-friendly, and they have Barbie in a wheelchair. They have Barbie with Down’s Syndrome. They represented that in the movie, but people were so confused by it. But that’s the brand now. Barbie’s every woman. We’re trying not to give kids complexes about themselves. That’s my whole beef with Barbie collectors who hate the new Barbie. Like, babe, this is for kids. Kids want to have a doll that looks like them to play with. It’s just human nature. But Margot just looked like a stereotypical Barbie in the best way possible.
RAJAGOPAL: There was a lot of gingham and plaid going on. And headbands.
RENÉE: It’s what you think you’re going to wear as an adult woman when you’re six. It reminded me of 13 Going on 30.
RAJAGOPAL: Was there any other fashion besides Chanel that you clocked?
RENÉE: I want to say that Alexandra Shipp had on an AREA dress that I remember almost buying for the premiere, which is so funny.
RAJAGOPAL: Are there any Barbie looks that you wish you saw in the movie?
RENÉE: I wish they had brought out some of the Bob Mackie looks, because it’s so over the top. Also, a lot of the ’80s and ‘90s Barbie stuff was so stupid and pink and furry. I wish they had done more of that.
RAJAGOPAL: I remember reading that the costume designer wasn’t trying to be all about pink, but had a specific color palette with yellow and other lighthearted colors.
RENÉE: I just wish they were in Barbieland more in the movie.
RAJAGOPAL: I wouldn’t have minded just hanging around in Barbieland for a bit.
RENÉE: How many times do we actually get to watch movies with practical sets like that?
RAJAGOPAL: We saw some of the Barbie Dream Houses from the outside, but we didn’t really feel like we were in them.
RENÉE: And when we were in them, that’s when the Kens took over and it was all ugly. I found myself being upset at Ken.
RAJAGOPAL: But to me, Ken’s fashion was kind of the highlight.
RENÉE: I wasn’t expecting that. It’s probably the best I’ve seen Ryan Gosling look in a movie.
RAJAGOPAL: Except for the dye job.
RENÉE: But it’s very slutty, that bleach blonde. That’s such a slutty ’90s dirtneck, porn hairstyle. And I didn’t know he was ripped like that. He’s not my type, but I was looking. Same with Simu Liu.
RAJAGOPAL: All the Kens were very boytoy.
RENÉE: There were so many gay jokes too. And I’m in the Bay, but not the Bay proper. It’s what I call a freeway town, so it was surreal.
RAJAGOPAL: I think the gayest moment was when all the Kens were all wearing those little sports outfits. The five-inch inseam and a crop top. And they were twisting each other’s nipples.
RENÉE: It was a lot of innuendo. They need to bring back that short length.
RAJAGOPAL: But the Ken look in the horse-lined mink and the horseshoe chain and a sneaker was crazy.
RENÉE: That was a good look. He reminded me of Drive with Ryan Gosling. The leather was doing good for me, I’m not going to lie. It was very Village People-coded. Very ’70s gay art. I was a fan of President Barbie not dressing like a president and just dressing like a princess. The Barbie CEO in the ’90s, Jill [Barad], had great hair and wore pink skirt suits. She looked incredible, literally how you would expect the CEO of Mattel to look, except she was brunette. But I’m just happy that I get to have my moment and Barbiecore is coming back with a vengeance.
RAJAGOPAL: Is Barbiecore and maximalism here to stay or is it just having its movie-spurred moment?
RENÉE: I feel like it was already moving in that direction. And movies are subconsciously a driving force when it comes to trends and shopping. I can’t tell you how many times I watched some random ass Italian or French movie from the ’70s for research and ended up dressing like that. So I definitely think everyone’s going to be dressing more doll-like and introducing pink into their wardrobes.
RAJAGOPAL: I ask because at the end, when Barbie turned into a human, her look was so blah. It was a light wash jean and an oversized blazer and a Birkenstock. I was like, “Is this who Barbie would be if she was one of us?”
RENÉE: No. But I have such a beef with blazers in general. It has to be a cute ‘90s businesswoman, The Nanny look or I’m not wearing it. Unless it’s a Saint Laurent blazer with those huge shoulders.
RAJAGOPAL: Maybe if she had worn that same look, but with a crazy dramatic shoulder and a different toe.
RENÉE: Just something a little kooky. Because she’s still a doll. But I guess that illustrates the point of her wanting to be regular. The only thing I’m worried about now is the price of Barbies going up.
RAJAGOPAL: There’s definitely going to be a lot of demand for Barbie paraphernalia with all the clothing and shoe brands collaborating with Mattel.
RENÉE: Zara has a Barbie collection that looks like Blumarine. I’m not wearing no gingham dress, though. They can save that. Anything that looks too southern belle is a no for me.
RAJAGOPAL: Barbie’s a West Coast girl.
RENÉE: She’s literally from Malibu. What was the last high fashion Barbie collection they did? Balmain did a Barbie collection. When the Moschino collab came out, I bought a bunch of that. Jeremy [Scott] actually recreated a lot of actual Barbie clothes. He had three different collaborations with them. They did a Moschino Barbie for the Met, a Moschino Barbie and Ken, and then the [Spring 2015] collection. [But] my favorite designer Barbie and the only white doll I’m going to buy is the Versace Barbie. It is literally the most intense thing I’ve ever seen in my life. They have a Versace Barbie and a Versus Versace Barbie. It’s literally a yassified Donatella as a Barbie.
RAJAGOPAL: Oh my god. Is it this corset dress one? This is so hot.
RENÉE: Isn’t it amazing? It’s $400. I could buy something from Versace for that.
RENÉE: It’s tough out here. I want a Barbie room when I buy a new house. I’m a Barbie girl living in a Barbie World, and I’m just happy that everyone else is on my wave right now.
RAJAGOPAL: It’s the movie of the decade.
RENÉE: Literally the movie of the decade. I’m going to be real with you, I don’t want to watch Oppenheimer. I hate existential questions. I would’ve definitely taken the blue pill and stayed in Barbieland. I used to be really mad when people would do very introductory feminism conversations, but I also have to realize I’m an old person now, and this is for someone much younger who needs a gateway drug into freeing themselves from their patriarchal oppression. And it was even slightly critical of choice feminism, when she was like, “I like turning my brain off.” No one likes turning their brain off. Wake up, sister. But that’s Greta Gerwig. She’s very like, “Feminism!” Which is annoying to us, because we’re jaded and read books. But to people who don’t, that’s new. The locals were gagged. Some guy walked out of the theater with his wife and his kids during America’s speech. They think the woke is coming after everything, child. Women are oppressed. I don’t know what else you want me to say.
RAJAGOPAL: This is our reality. I don’t see you in five-inch shorts.
RENÉE: To be fair, the rest of the dolls on the market now are infinitely more slutty than Barbies are. Have you seen the LOL Surprise dolls? They have booty shorts and super curvy bodies. Crazy ass. She don’t got a job. So that’s your other option.
RAJAGOPAL: Well, thank you so much Rashida. This was so fun.
RENÉE: You’re welcome. That was fab. Bye.