Who else grew up loving all things Barbie? Since 1959, the Mattel doll has been a top player in the toy industry, and has since expanded her empire to take hold of children’s film, streamed television, Youtube, video game and printed media realms. Considering the number of careers that Barbie’s had in her 63-year run, we can expect her influence to carry well into the future, and to keep evolving in accordance with current trends.
The same thing can be said the other way around: trends also adapt accordingly to fit Barbie’s latest style. In the summer of 2022, we began to see glimpses of “Barbiecore,” an internet micro-trend characterized by a number of aesthetic components like fashion styles, colors, pop culture moments, and photographed body image. Before we get into this any further, it’s important to first define what a “core” is, why there seems to be so many these days, and how we’ve arrived at Barbiecore.
As a suffix, “-core” indicates an aesthetic: a packaged set of lifestyles, outfits, and activities as captured on camera. And since social media has become a tool for both amateur and professional personal branding, anything can become a “core” if you romanticize your life enough. Even if you haven’t heard the term “cottagecore” (or “farmcore”), you’ve definitely seen it, or experienced things that would fall under its jurisdiction. A mix of whimsical and pastoral, cottagecore fashion was something out of a storybook; pieces like corsets and ruffled off-the-shoulder dresses in faded flower prints were the picnicking-amongst-the-wildflowers uniform. (Even food content reflected this maximal, rustic aesthetic. Think cakes with unfrosted sides and covered in flowers, or homemade loaves of bread with butter.) Pastel colors, specifically soft greens, off-whites and baby pinks brought a general quality of softness — a look that was further developed in the post-production of cottagecore media. Soft lighting was highlighted by darkened shadows, making the farm-to-dinner table or plant-filled bedroom seem all the more dreamy.
In cottagecore’s later stages, a brighter, much more extravagant princess motif began to peek through the low-exposure clouds. Gingham nap dresses were replaced with chiffon cupcake-styles with puffy sleeves (a la Selkie’s now-famous Puff Dress). Soon after, we were introduced to “Barbiecore”: a look that shares some similarities with cottagecore in its meticulous aesthetic curation — just louder, more plastic, and completely different.
“Barbiecore” is a sign of the changing fashion seasons: a parting shift away from pastels and monochromatic neutrals that reigned supreme from 2020 to 2022. In came waves of hot pink latex bodysuit dresses, monochromatic pink sets and cinched waists, which all appeared to be inspired by Barbie’s own wardrobe. Barbiecore looks are heavily accessorized with headbands, gloves, bangles, white chunky sunglasses, and matching white block-heeled boots. Barbiecore is framed by the altered photo perspective that makes your legs look extra long, and your face tiny in comparison. Barbiecore isn’t faker than cottagecore by any means: it’s just more explicitly hyper-produced in the sense that the plastic, campy, readymade-ness is part of the deal.
The online Barbiecore presence is more than your typical fashion pendulum swing, like the phasing in and out of rounded-toe shoes. (Which are currently out, by the way: as are a number of other shoes you can read about here.) It’s important to mention that amongst the appearances of Barbiecore outfits on Instagram were also discussions and BTS shots of director Greta Gerwig’s upcoming Barbie film adaptation. We may never know whether Barbiecore is really movie propaganda or just an honest trend — but it is quite fitting and not entirely unbelievable for a company to employ infiltrating tactics for the sake of gaining social media influence.
Either way, Barbie has maintained her relevancy, renewing her popularity countless times over the decades. Her name still rings bells with whatever generation follows Gen-Z. She is, might I say, the original queen of personal branding.