Saturday, April 13, 2013

Barbie, World Traveller

Designers have created all kinds of costumes for Barbie dolls, including dozens inspired by the historic costumes of countries around the world. You guessed it...some people whine that the dolls are racist. Why dress Barbie like one vintage picture rather than another?

I chortled at one comment: "Why not a Canadian Barbie?" There was a Canadian Barbie. And her fashion statement came from the one costume that the whole world recognizes as specifically Canadian--she was dressed up as a Mountie!

Apart from the essential weirdness of Barbie's always having come in a variety of colors, I find no racism in the costume collection. I think it's an amusing way to approach the history of costume.

While most of the world seems to try to dress alike (in jeans and sweats) now, there was a time when people in different parts of the world took pride in designing and wearing their own special costumes. Though often described in old books as uniforms ("In Volendam they wear [this costume], in Marken they wear [this other costume], and on and on") the photos show that in practice there was plenty of room for individual interpretation and variation. The outfits were handmade from patterns or descriptions circulated through the community. Everyone wouldn't necessarily wear every piece of the suggested costume. Trimmings and embroidery, if used, would be used differently. There was just an effort to show hometown pride through wearing these clothes on dressy occasions, like wearing team colors at a sports event. And when people left the places where the town or regional costume was worn, they often brought the costume with them and continued to wear it with pride--sometimes only for church, sometimes only for parties.

For anyone who's interested in designing and making dressy clothes, the old books that contained photos and paintings of old costumes are a treasure trove. This is what the "World Barbies" are trying to preserve and commemorate.