Barbie doll and clothes

by Dr. Lori Verderame

Everybody knows about Barbie dolls and their strong collectors’ interest worldwide. But what about Barbie’s cool accessories like Barbie dream houses, airplanes, fashion clothing, and vinyl wardrobe carrying cases? Do they spark collectors’ interests? You bet they do. And what about vintage Barbie accessories values?

Humble Beginnings

Bild Lilli Front jacket

Recently, I appraised a Bild Lilli doll from Germany, the teenage fashion doll that inspired Barbie dolls in America. These dolls which were the impetus that sparked the Barbie doll craze in the late 1950s, early 1960s wear makeup, have great fashion clothes, and are widely collectible. Recently a German Bild Lilli doll sold at auction for $5,000 creating quite a buzz for Barbie enthusiasts. My client purchased her Bild Lilli doll online for a mere $15 from an online auction and a seller who didn’t know what he or she had and is poised to cash in. Recognizing quality in any art, antiques, or collectibles is the name of the game. In today’s market where a similar doll just sold for a ton of cash and with the Barbie movie in 2023, the Bild Lilli doll and others like it will certainly command collectors’ attention.

Barbie Clothes, Shoes, etc.

Barbie doll and clothes

Many people realize that Barbie clothes and accessories are among some of the most popular aspects of the Barbie collecting craze. Barbie collectors protect and preserve everything from Barbie black and white striped bathing suits and white framed cat eye sunglasses to evening gowns and tiaras. The vintage carrying cases for Barbie’s wardrobe are often found in thrift stores, flea markets, yard sales, antique malls, estate sales, and auctions. Sweaters, pants, parkas, hats, boots, purses, shoes, blouses, sundresses, work uniforms, athletic wear, etc. are only some of the items that you might find in Barbie’s closet. Barbie has a hip wardrobe, and her accessories are at the forefront of doll clothes design.

Barbie had other relatives and friends who were also clothes horses. The first one that comes to mind to show an international fashion look is Barbie’s cousin from England, Francie Fairchild. Introduced in 1966 and in production until 1976, Francie was highlighted in the Mattel marketing not only as Barbie’s modern clothed cousin but she was often seen wearing the bright colors and geometric patterns often seen on Carnaby Street in the early 1970s. In fact, some say it was Francie who led the way, though purportedly younger than Barbie, to Barbie becoming even more cool than she already was when it came to styles and dressing up.

Francie was the true international clothes hound was also introduced with her own line of clothes. The same way that Barbie’s clothes had the Barbie label sewn into them, Francie’s modern clothing of the mid 1960s and 1970s also had an identifying tag or label. Today, collectors look for Francie’s clothes and the many versions of the Francie doll for their own collection or to resell for profit.

Barbie’s clothes had to be stored somewhere so portable vinyl wardrobe carrying cases were a great solution. Made of the same vinyl over cardboard materials as lunchboxes of the period, Barbie doll owners would collect and play with Barbie clothes, pink hangers, shoes, boots, and accessories and store them in Barbie carrying cases featuring members of the Barbie clan such as Skipper, Midge, Ken, etc. There was even a Barbie trousseau carrying case with a bride and groom on the cover to encourage girls to plan their wedding day wardrobe. Barbie wardrobe carrying cases with original hardware in good condition range in value from $50-$350 depending on many factors.

Barbie Dreamhouses

While collectors of hot wheels toys loved the small scale toy cars reminiscent of the 1960s muscle cars driven by NASA astronauts and Hollywood celebrities, Barbie’s followers had much more to play with than Barbie’s clothes and her cool sports cars. Barbie had an enviable portfolio. Vintage Barbie accessories included clothes, fashion accessories, real estate, campers, lake cabins, cars, and even airplanes. Barbie’s fold and fun duplexes allowed girls to open and close up a small Barbie house in a neat box with decorated interior rooms, accessory furniture, fences, and a convenient plastic handle to carry it from friend’s house to friend’s house. Today these Barbie architectural collectibles resell on the market between $85 and $250 depending on condition, accessories included and market.

Barbie’s houses were many. Some were three room suburban homes with kitchens, bedrooms, and dens. Kitchens featured stoves, sinks below windows, cabinets and countertops. Bedrooms were filled with mid century modern bedroom sets, Bertoia chairs, and desks for studying. Barbie’s den had a portable console TV set, mod planters hosting thriving house plants, and windows covered with period curtains or shades. There was quite a California sensibility to Barbie’s homes and getaways. Some of Barbie’s dream homes had skylights and patios or balconies and roof gardens, etc. This was also true in the furniture selections for Barbie’s homes. Furniture in Barbie’s houses, emphasis on the plural, emphasized popular west coast designs like Hollywood Regency and mid century modern styles.

Pools were all the rage and if you were poolside with Barbie, you were probably atop an above ground pool deck in a plastic formed chaise lounge in pink or purple. The many Barbie dream houses and furnishings on today’s collectors market command values into the several hundreds and, I predict that the Barbie architecture will increase in value into the thousands for some select houses based on the active interest in all things Barbie on the collectibles market. Barbie moved into the 1970s with some of the popular buildings of the period like A-frame houses and two story options.

Barbie Furniture

When it came to interior decorating, Barbie was not without options and it shows in the vintage Barbie accessories. Barbie’s houses were decorated with wall coverings and images of objects on the vinyl walls or with objects that could be added or subtracted from a Barbie house like picnic tables, patio umbrellas, daybeds, sofas, lounge chairs, etc. In fact, Barbie’s furniture which ranges from $25 to $250 for one special and rare piece was made of many different materials. Some furniture was printed foldable cardstock paper or cardboard, brightly colored vinyl that kids could blow up, or molded plastic pieces not unlike the Lucite chairs and other furniture made of space age materials being introduced to the general public in the 1960s and 1970s.

Barbie furniture that was a true reflection of the times. Barbie was one of us –a suburban American teen—and her surroundings reflected her social and class status. One of the reasons why Barbie was so appealing was that all that she had was attainable. Barbie furniture was new and hip but it also reflected how Americans really lived. For instance, it was common for most mid century modern homeowners to have new furniture in the main rooms of the house like the living room and dining room. Most of these young suburban dwellers featured new, trendy furniture in the living room and older, established, even hand me down furnishings in the bedrooms or out of the way areas of the house like the basements/playrooms.

For instance, in the 1962 cardboard Barbie house, there is a credenza and coffee table that feature a faux wood grain simulating veneer (made of printed paper over cardboard) and a complimentary tufted upholstery chair and plaid sofa. The sofa is very low to the ground and it reminds me of a glorified futon in plaid. As accents, there is a tufted occasional chair and ottoman. Names like Knoll, Herman Miller and Heywood Wakefield come to mind. Even the Herman Miller office chair was made to Barbie scale. All of this Barbie furniture is typical of what you would see in a suburban American home of the 1960s. Mattel made sure that Barbie’s house and its furnishings looked like the interiors of our houses.

Barbie decorated the living room with cool mid century modern furniture in a streamlined, minimalist style was on display in the living room but grandma’s old hand me down French cottage furniture was in the bedroom complete with scrollwork headboard, vanity table, and matching stool with curved wooden seat. Barbie’s house was portable for anywhere play but her house looked like a typical American house of the times. Furnished Barbie houses are valued from $100-$500 retail on today’s market in good condition and they are a feat for the eyes from floor to ceiling.

Barbie Outdoor Furniture

Pool decks, patios, breezeways, and other outdoor spaces used by Barbie highlighted various objects like chaise lounge chairs, planters, fences and light posts. The architecture of Barbie in the 1960s to the 1990s is decidedly California in its sensibilities with large expansive windows, skylights, second floor porches and balconies. I can’t see a little girl playing with her Barbie in Eau Claire, Wisconsin or New Haven, Connecticut thinking that a playroom with a screen door would be comfortable when a February snowstorm is coming through the region. In the 1970s, Barbie’s furniture could be used indoor or outdoor like balloon back wicker chairs and blow up vinyl bean bag chairs. Avocado and coppertone colored appliances, Age of Aquarius patterned wallpaper, and live plants all make an appearance in the A-frame plastic Barbie houses of the 1970s.

Barbie scale

My favorite home décor accessory of the 1970s is one that many baby boomers may recall. The furry bathroom scale. While Barbie didn’t have to lose an ounce, the Barbie bathroom scale had her weight at 110 lbs. and red or pink fuzzy carpeting covering the scale in order to keep your feet warm when doing the morning weight check. This 1970s scale in Barbie’s bathroom was introduced just in time for Barbie to join the rest of the country of weight conscious Americans and try out the Scarsdale Medical Diet that debuted in 1979.

What to Look For

When it comes to Barbie clothing, accessories, dreamhouses, and furniture, look for one thing overall, good condition. Condition must be very good to command high values from collectors because vinyl, cardboard, and colorful materials can deteriorate fast in the hands of excited children who want to play for fun. When it comes to value for vintage Barbie accessories, look for matching clothing outfits. Don’t turn your back on shoes, sunglasses, or handbags that are just Barbie’s size.

Collectors also look for unusual vintage Barbie accessories like the Barbie Country pop-up Camper, Friendship or United airplanes complete with Barbie’s stewardess drink cart, and pool and patio furniture that give you the complete outdoor experience with pool, patio umbrella, picnic table, chaise lounge chairs, and more. And, for the consummate Barbie collector don’t forget that Barbie dolls are the icing on the cake when it comes to reviving a Barbie home or neighborhood in vintage mid to late 20th century style.

Watch videos on my YouTube channel where I reveal more about vintage Barbie accessories values. I can appraise your Barbie accessories and dolls from photos or you can show me your pieces during a video call.