Fashion, at first glance, is a contradiction. It is simultaneously a desire to explore trends and a form of individualism and self-expression. Barbiecore is a prime example: as the sexy doll’s ethos has continued its takeover, it seems as though every young woman is wearing something attention-grabbing hot pink. Christene Barberich, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Refinery29, describes it like this: “Somehow, you find a way to make [a new piece] your own, and once it is, you’re just a little bit more yourself than you were before you found it. That’s fashion to me. Collecting beautiful little pieces of yourself over time.”
If this is the meaning of fashion, then so many women and girls have “found themselves” recently as Barbiecore has risen to become the aesthetic of the summer. I keep seeing comments like, “Barbie’s marketing team deserves a raise.” Indeed, the marketing for Greta Gerwig‘s hit fantasy film Barbie has generated a full-on cultural takeover in aesthetics. Barbie luggage. Barbie ice cream. Barbie Crocs.
Barbie Uno cards. Barbie electric toothbrushes. And, of course, the Barbie dolls. The list goes on.
Barbie, the movie, has collaborated with over 30 brands to date, and that doesn’t even include all the companies promoting the film for free. Yes, Barbie‘s marketing team is incredibly talented, but they may
have started their ventures with a leg up, as there was a gap in the pop culture’s Haute couture that needed filling. Since the turn of the century, Hollywood has been dominated by films like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Avatar, The Lord of the Rings, and the entire superhero genre, all of which highlight men, their stories, and their worlds. So it feels like many women have been waiting for something like this – a pop culture takeover that shamelessly glorifies extreme feminine aesthetics. Barbie‘s success challenges the entertainment status quo.
Barbie is a long-awaited fashion venture that many women craved. I don’t remember the last time I saw a movie in theaters, much less dressed up for it. But like so many others at the Barbie premiere, I went all out, rocking a hot pink minidress, big textured hoops, rose gold makeup, and butterfly clips in my hair.
The feminine energy in the theater was palpable. As podcaster and writer Emma Gray writes, “This is the ecstasy of feeling seen. The unfettered joy of a big, splashy, cultural moment that unapologetically speaks to you.” Filmgoers spilled out of the theater in a joyful sea of pink.
It’s not only at Barbie movies where people now dress in feminine fashion – it’s seemingly everywhere. In late 2022, pink was beginning to bleed into every fashion genre, office wear included. At stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, for example, whose rebirth has given way to a total jumpstart into new layers of popularity, baby pink wide-leg trousers hit the shelves along with cropped white tweed blazers and delicate lime green heels. These are the kind of ensembles one used to only see on the big screen. The Barbie Land in Barbie is not a perfect society, but if there is one thing we know for sure, it’s that the cabinet full of adorable miniskirts is not part of the problem.
Until now, traditional menswear has had an “Adam’s rib created Eve”-type influence on what women are expected to wear to work. Google search “women’s office wear” and what comes up? Rows of beige pleated pants, crisp white button-ups, pencil skirts, and fitted blazers. Hemlines go to the knee, and necklines land just above the sternum. It’s no secret that in the corporate world, how women dress can make or break their career. So we hide what makes us ultra-feminine, or “distracting” – our cleavage, shoulders, and legs. We don’t hide these attributes too much because our femininity appeases men if we know how to use it. But only to a certain extent. Show too much skin and we fall back into the pit of unprofessional, from which we can never climb out.
Now, compare these corporate expectations with the fashion we see in Gerwig’s fantastical Barbie. Barbie Land, a sparkly pink utopia, is filled with the Real World’s unthinkable: a president of the Barbies (Issa Rae) wearing a crop top and short shorts with a sash that reads “President”; a doctor (Hari Nef) wearing a mini blue polka dot dress and bright red lipstick; a lawyer (Sharon Rooney) wearing a glittery lavender tweed set. When Barbie (Margot Robbie) and Ken (Ryan Gosling) arrive in L.A., they are greeted by a Miss Universe billboard that depicts slender, beautiful women in bikinis. “Oh look, the Supreme Court!” Barbie says. This line, at which the entire theater erupted in laughter, is the essence of what embracing brazen femininity means in this movie.
When the Barbie President is standing at her desk (in what I can only assume is called the Pink House) signing papers, surrounded by reporters, she dons more “professional” attire – a sparkly gold and pink off-the-shoulder ball gown. When she shows up at the beach, a far more casual occasion, she rocks a red and white tracksuit with a patch reading “President” ironed to the fabric. The way this character dresses is a clear statement, encapsulating how Barbie considers female professionalism – it is not
cheapened by one’s femininity; rather, it views femininity as an asset.
Mattel’s CEO, played by Will Ferrell, is backed by a conglomerate of robotic-like men, motivated by their capitalist aspirations and all trying their hardest to put Barbie back in her box, a prettily packaged commodity. But the Barbies in Barbie showed us a utopia, a world where the most well-respected career women in town can be seen partying at sleepovers wearing satin shorts and clutching glasses of bubbly, giggling. Like former Finnish Prime Minster Sanna Marine, we can be feminine, competent, scandalous, and professional. And we can break box office records doing it.
For those of us trying to embrace our individualism and style while climbing the rungs of a largely antiquated corporate ladder, how do we fuse these things? Must we wait until the next generation comes into power, until the Boomer executives who perceive the Barbie movie as anti-man are replaced? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to wait that long.
Barbiecore is shifting expectations of women in the corporate world. For many, this is but a fleeting trend, and it will not extend past this summer, the summer of the girls. But maybe for some of us, Barbiecore is a stepping stone to more freedom in fashion in the traditionally conservative workplace. Some bells cannot be un-rung, and some truths cannot be undiscovered. Some women really know how to rock pink.
Barker, Tom. “There’s No Escaping Barbiecore”. Highsnobiety. 21 July 2023. Glamour Magazine. 26 February 2023.
Chery, Samantha. “Women Dance in Solidarity with Finnish PM Sanna Marin”. The Washington Post. 23 August 2022.
Cohen, Leandra M. “I Asked a Bunch of Industry People: What’s the Point of Fashion?” Repeller. 7 February 2018.
Pauly, Alexandra. “The ‘Barbie’ Movie Isn’t Out Yet, But Its 30-Plus Collabs Are”. HighSnobiety. 21 July 2023.
Turner, Elle. “Barbiecore beauty will rule this summer, from flicked ponytails to fluttery lashes”.