Marissa Smith was a lifelong Barbie fan. But nothing could quite match to the frenzy she felt when the first Barbie movie trailer dropped last year. “I started going through this rabbit hole of finding vintage bags and apparel that were Barbie-branded,” she admits. “That really started me on this path of ‘I need to dress up for these film screenings.’”
She’s far from the only person dressing up in Barbiecore to go see the Barbie movie, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Barbie and Ken. The Barbie craze has intensified throughout the summer, largely thanks to Robbie and her stylist Andrew Mukamal’s choice to outfit the actress after vintage Barbie looks for the film’s press tour. Now, fashion is one of the main tools people are using to channel their excitement for the film and nostalgia for the decades-old toy that’s both celebrated and vilified for its representations of womanhood. “It's very rare that the girls and the gays and the theys get to express themselves or come together in a special way that's generally just for them,” says Smith.
While the season’s biggest fashion event will take place in the movie theatres, TikTok has also become a place for Barbie fans to gather, planning outfits and sharing style ideas for how to channel Barbiecore. The term was first coined last year amid a rise in pink, following the Valentino fall 2022 collection and the first set photos from the Barbie movie. Now, it has over 759 million views on TikTok, while searches for “outfit ideas for the barbie movie” have garnered over 22 million views.
“Beyond fashion aesthetics and fitting in with current trends, [Barbiecore] is a return to dressing in a way that makes people feel good,” says J'Nae Phillips, insights editor at Canvas8, a London-based consumer behaviour agency. “Dressing in hot pink à la Barbie is an instant mood booster and another iteration of dopamine dressing, providing respite and relief from chaotic world events and providing a way for people to express joy through their fashion choices.”
This is one of the reasons content creator Ruby Layla was most excited about Barbie’s opening weekend. “Everyone is just waiting to have a bit of fun,” she says, referring to the Barbie movie fashion craze. “Everyone just wants something to celebrate.” Similarly to Smith, Layla has been planning her outfit for months, but she settled on wearing a pink sparkly jumpsuit, pairing it with “basically as many pink accessories I can.” The pressure is on to deliver, she says, as the hype continues to build during the movie’s opening week: “I’d say this Barbie will be very glittery.”
Meanwhile, New York-based creator Hikari Fleurr is going for a girlboss Barbie. “I just want to stick to something more like standard traditional,” she says, referring to the pink blazer dress she picked out to watch the movie. “It’s giving preppy, girly, and classy.” Part of what’s gotten her excited about dressing up to see the film is the communal experience that she’s already witnessed online. “People are really excited about this movie because we grew up on Barbie,” she says. “This is our time.”
It’s rare to see a community rally behind a film so much they’re playing dress up to celebrate its release. Sure, people wore their best Hot Topic-core to see the Twilight saga in the mid-2010s, and fan merch from blockbuster franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars are commonly spotted at theatres. But given Barbie’s storied relationship with fashion — from the doll’s outfit changes to collaborations with brands like Balmain and Zara — it was natural for the film’s release to step right into sartorial territory in a massive way. And thanks to Mattel’s marketing strategy, there’s no shortage of newly-released Barbie collaborations to choose from, including Impala roller skates, Aldo shoes, Béis luggage, and Forever21 clothes.
But fans like Smith are bypassing Mattel’s recent strategy, preferring to source vintage Barbie merch to play dress up for the film. For the past few months, Smith has been digging into eBay, Depop, and Poshmark. The search was intense, but Smith ended up finding some treasures: a 1990s children’s Barbie handbag; a “Barbie for President” pin; and a charm from one of Tarina Tarantino’s Barbie collaborations. She also got a custom made dress by designer Sarah Gansenhuber, who used vintage Barbie quilted bed sheets that Smith sourced to create a bib collared dress. “Normally, I am not a ‘dress on theme’ girl,” Smith admits. “I've never been so excited to go to a movie.”
The phenomenon also means that people are revisiting their love for the toy. Only, this time, there’s disposable income. There are also more choices, given the wide range of dolls Mattel has released in recent years after pushes for diversity in the Barbie universe. “I just really feel like they've really made a Barbie for every single person that would want one,” says Smith. In turn, the Barbie stereotype is being challenged as more people choose to rethink their relationship with the doll through fashion. “People are so focused on what Barbie looks like and not on what she's doing and I think that really says a lot,” says Layla. “I think it’s so amazing that Barbie has taken on so many roles and you’re able to see yourself in Barbie.” Astronaut Barbie. President Barbie. Mermaid Barbie. Pageant Queen Barbie. For Smith, it’s a once-in-a-generation fashion moment. “I think there's something about this full circle moment of everyone being able to do something together and celebrate themselves and each other, that hasn't happened within the movie world ever,” says Smith.