The Comprehensive Guide to Barbie and the Rockers Fashions, Part 1: Concerted Individuality

Talk about dated movies.

Released in 1987, most people who have anything to say about Barbie and the Rockers recall it only as Mattel’s half-hearted stab at the market that Hasbro was capitalizing on with their Jem and the Holograms cartoon and line of fashion dolls. Unfortunately, because Jem had been cancelled by ’88, but Barbie and the Rockers were on VHS, I had never heard of the former and instead watched the living shit out of this.

Watching it now, you can definitely tell when it was made. But that’s part of the fun, ain’t it?

The biggest tell is not the soundtrack which, though very synthpop, is half-comprised of cover songs. This is probably why the movie has never seen an American DVD release, getting the rights to all the covers again. These screenshots come from the Italian DVD release, which seem not to include the second half of the movie where they go back in time to 1959 (the year Barbie was introduced). Which is a shame because if you like this article, you’d love (as Salmon put it when she watched it with me) “oh lord, the 50’s according to the 80’s”.

But no, it is the undeniably the outfits, of which there are many, that plant this cartoon squarely in the “this is from the 80’s” camp.

Strangely, for a cartoon about them being rockstars, they actually don’t give their concert performance outfits much screen time.

Barbie obviously gets center stage and her outfit is, of course, mostly pink. That is her signature color after all. Though she does usually default to it, we’ll see her courting a lot of other colors too, true to her original sophisticate incarnation before her late 70’s makeover into a friendly, approachable, and pink Valley Girl. Note the metallic blue top. Also her white ankle boots. My mom had a pair and they were a staple of any closet-raided dress-up. Sadly, this outfit also marks the return of the mutton-chop sleeve on the jacket, which I personally feel is something we should have left in the 1880’s where they belong. I do like that the jacket is just an inch or two shorter than the mini-skirt, though.

the back of Barbie's tour outfit.

A close-up of the front of Barbie's tour outfit.

I also really like how she coordinated her belt with her bracelet. There’s actually a few neat looking belts of that same general design, where instead of buckling like normal, they kind of intersect at an angle.

the front of Barbie's tour outfit.

Barbie's hair and makeup.

Let’s talk hair and makeup. Blue eyeshadow is certainly a hallmark of 80’s teen makeup. But that hair! Volume the likes of which one can only dream and a big pink bow to keep it in check. There are bows on fucking everything in this cartoon. And like bows, we’ll be seeing a lot of these geometric earrings too.

But aside from a few close-ups and a split-second shot, the rest of the band may as well be furniture.

Ken's green tour jacket.

Close-up of Dana's outfit.

Group shot of The Rockers

I honestly feel kinda bad for The And Guest Band because their unimportance to the goings-on is always just visible under the surface of the narrative, as we’ll see later. But for now, just don’t get used to the idea of Dana as the keyboardist and Diva being in charge of the maracas. Who plays what is interchangeable.

But because I care, let’s go ahead and talk about these outfits and the people they belong to. And get their fuckin’ names straight. I dug around and I found the picture below from the picture book Barbie and the Rockers: The Fan on, which gives you a much more detailed look at these outfits.

Page from Barbie and the Rockers: The Fan, showing the full bands outfits in detail.

So, as the song goes, Barbie and the Rockers. With Dana, Dee Dee, Derek, and Diva too. Also Ken, who apparently does not get billing, but you probably already know who he is. That’s his green torso playing guitar up there (and wearing an inexplicably red cummerbund with no other coordinated accessories to make it make sense). Not really much of note about him, except that apparently he wants to bring a little New Wave androgyny into their show with his false eyelashes.

Ken and his falsies.

Eh, it’s good for bands to try different directions. I also like his tidied-up-for-the-pop-charts Billy Squier hairdo.

The other contribution of testosterone to this glitterfest is Derek, who is traditionally the stand-in boyfriend or husband to whatever dolls you had that weren’t blonde and blue-eyed. In this film, he’s sort of a grunt. He doesn’t get the glamorous jobs like accompanying Barbie to the ball in her honor, but he gets to be in charge of driving the van! Yes, this band is world famous, their album went triple platinum, their concerts sell out across the globe, but the bassist (’cause you know he’s not playing lead) has to drive the fucking tour van. Not even the tour bus, the tour van.

The whole damn band in the tour van.

Interesting choice of colors. Definitely taking the pastels of the era for a ride, but he doesn’t seem to be pulling it off quite right. Looks less Miami Vice and more Easter. I’m thinking the lapels on the jacket is what’s killing it. Maybe if he picked pink OR yellow and not both. But at least they didn’t make him wear the shit going on in the book. I think the animators took one look at that flowered dinner jacket and were like “I don’t care how little of it there’s actually going to be, I ain’t animating that.”

While we’re on that shot in the van, let’s talk about Dee Dee’s ensemble. Hers is considerably more casual than everyone else’s, consisting of an oversize yellow t-shirt with a generic geometric picture on it and matching geo earrings, a big red-orange bow in her afro, and according to the picture book, black speckled leggings. We never actually see her legs in this outfit in the movie, hidden as she is by the drum set and the dashboard of the van, but we’ll just imagine. She could be wearing Hammer pants for all we know.

Conversely Diva (that’s right, Diva is not the girl of color) is wearing the most complicated outfit of the troupe. Maybe to compensate for playing the simplest of their instruments. There’s a singular shot of this outfit in the movie, and given its complexity, I’m guessing the animators were like “nope” with regard to it too.

Diva's obnoxious New Romantic outfit.

Festoons of ruffles, ribbons in her hair and at her waist, another bow, shit going on every which way you look. Very New Romantic. Not a big fan of the color palette either. If you’re gonna do the whole primary colors thing, you can’t cheat and throw pink in.

Now Dana knows how to do the Memphis-Milano look. That’s her red, white, and blue torso playing the keyboard. Her jacket also has yellow going on so that it’s doing the kindergarten color scheme of Memphis Group influence as opposed to just looking like she fuckin’ loves America. Or France. And of course, the big-ass hairbow is in attendance.

The individuality of this set of outfits is very strange compared to most of the rest of the movie. And not just because the characters don’t actually have any discernible personalities! Save for their casual/clubbing clothes, they tend to wear outfits that, though not identical to each other, are variations on the same concept. These are not only a deviation from that general rule, but also from each other.

But hey, they don’t need their own styles. As we’ll see in part two of the guide to every fucking outfit in an 80’s cartoon about Barbie, she is not just the lead singer of this band, but really the only part anyone really gives a damn about.

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  1. Simon 2013.09.07 2:32pm

    Well, SOMEBODY has to drive the van. You go, Derek.

    I have some vague memories about Barbie. My sister was into it, of course, and Jem, so I always had at least some exposure to this sort of thing. The fashions always struck me as unrealistic, even back then, because I never saw real people actually wearing things like this. That might just be my lack of exposure, but I never personally saw anything so bright or explosive.

    But is it me? In that artbook picture, it looks like the group are really disturbed by the presence of this little girl. Like, “Ew, what does it want? She doesn’t even have any ribbons in her hair.” Dana is smiling politely, but she’s seconds away from calling security.

    • DJ 2013.09.07 3:29pm

      Early Barbie dolls did have fashions based on what was actually popular at the time. And I kinda remember the stuff my dolls having (when they were not career dolls, which is what I remember most about Barbies in my day) being estimations of trendiness. Their outfits were similar to things I remembered my mom and aunt wearing.

      I read recently that trying to find certain kinds of 80’s thrift finds, especially anything of the trendier schools of 80’s shit, you’d be better off searching in places that themselves were very hip at the time. Places like Miami and Dallas (in addition to obvious ones like Los Angeles and New York) would have had people who were very much about being on-trend, whereas in places less of-the-minute, the trends of the time would not have been as apparent.

      Too, Barbies were always sort of a high-life fantasy anyway. Someone out there was dressing like she did. But unless you too were a rockstar, it probably wasn’t anyone you knew.

      I can’t find anything about what that book might be about, but I thought it looked uncharacteristically unappreciative too, yeah. In the movie, they just looooooove all their fans ever.


August 2022