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Readers, is it normal that a grown man should find style inspiration in an 11 1/2-inch vinyl doll?

Meet Mattel’s Ken!

I picked up this vintage Ken on eBay a few months ago and I love him dearly. You’d never know it but Ken and I are roughly the same age and I don’t mean seventeen. Like me, Ken dates back to the early Sixties. He was Barbie’s teenage boyfriend.

Ken came with a fantastic wardrobe that grew as the years went by. Ken’s clothes, like Barbie’s, were accurate reproductions of the styles of the period and beautifully made. Look at the details on this suit — it’s even lined!

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Ken’s shirt has a pocket, facings, and even a yoke!

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All the big pattern companies made patterns for Barbie and Ken outfits, too. A lot of people learned to sew making clothes for them.

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As soon as I got Ken, I knew I had to find him some injection-molded vinyl friends and more clothes. So I returned to eBay and —

Meet Allan and some the treasures he arrived with!

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A vinyl carrying case full of vintage outfits and accessories!

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Allan was supposed to be Barbie’s friend Midge’s boyfriend (it’s complicated). Allan could wear Ken’s clothes and vice-versa, which was handy.

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Tennis, anyone?

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Tuxedo!

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Here’s Allan in a khaki trench coat and sports shirt. I finally got Ken out of that suit he’d been wearing since 1964 and into some casual separates. I love these outfits and I’d wear any of them myself. In fact, since I love early Sixties mens style, they really inspire me.

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But I didn’t stop there: meet Brad, the first African American fashion doll! Brad came out (not in the gay way) in 1968, at the same time that Ken’s wardrobe became mod.

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Yes, in the late Sixties, Ken got a new face and body, and a completely new, groovy wardrobe! Here’s the new Ken (know as “Live Action” Ken) with his tanner-than-tan twin, “Malibu” Ken.

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This mod outfit is called “The Casual Scene”, which sounds like a 1970s teens-on-acid flick. Don’t you love it?

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Needless to say, my doll collection is still growing, and best of all, everybody gets along.

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Readers, did you play with fashion dolls growing up? Did their wardrobe inspire your fashion sense?

Tell me about your favorite dolls and how they influenced your style and/or your sewing!

~Peter

When native New Yorker Peter Lappin bought his first sewing machine two years ago to hem a pair of thrift store jeans, little did he know he was initiating a journey that would bring him fame and fortune. While awaiting his fortune he stays busy writing “the world’s most popular men’s sewing blog,” Male Pattern Boldness, and now contributing to BurdaStyle.

“For more than twenty years I’d lived on the edge of the Garment District without even knowing what a seam ripper was. Now I rip daily!”

41 Comments

  • Missing

    Jul 6, 2013, 11.59 PMby MMMMMMM

    I really enjoyed this post in the past, but I see most of the photographs are gone now. Is there any way you could display them again?

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    Jun 17, 2011, 01.12 PMby suziwong66

    awwww you have a Chrissie doll???? What about Velvet? do you have her too. I was never lucky enough to have either; i just drooled along aside my less than likeable cousin (who didn’t like to share) when she played with hers LOL

    My 70s Barbies endured questionable haircuts as i learned to cut hair LOL and they wore some beyond questionable outfits as i learned to knit and sew…One of my original creations consisted of two knitted hunter green rectangles sewed together to make a tunic…..picture dropped stitches galore as i journeyed into the world of knitting LOL

    fabulous blog entry; you made my day:)

    1 Reply
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      Jun 18, 2011, 06.02 AMby Peter Lappin

      Thanks! I’m embarrassed to admit that I own THREE Chrissies — but no Velvets!

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    Jun 15, 2011, 12.28 PMby vlsews

    Being older than Barbie. I had a Revlon doll. She was shorter and not so fashion model like. But she was the one I made clothes for as a little girl. No sisters so I watched movies from the 30’s to play by. Ginger Rogers gowns were one of the styles I tried to copy.

    1 Reply
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    Jun 14, 2011, 09.10 PMby thecuriouskiwi

    I’m a bit obsessed with Barbie patterns, I’ve collected quite a few, I love them! I haven’t made anything yet but I’ll get to it. I bought myself a vintage Silkstone Barbie to play dress up with :) Getting back to the roots of how I learned to sew :)

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    Jun 14, 2011, 02.47 AMby tinybows

    Wow, I am so so jealous of your collection! I’ve always loved the early Ken styles. What a handsome dresser he was! I recently was at an estate sale and uncovered a huge box of 60s/70s era Barbie clothing all handmade and wonderful. Whoever made them was incredibly talented. Underneath all of the bellbottoms I found a handmade striped polyester suit for Ken. It definitely made my day!

    1 Reply
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      Jun 18, 2011, 06.03 AMby Peter Lappin

      What a fantastic find!

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    Jun 13, 2011, 10.48 PMby Nefertiti Moore

    i was very partial to Jem and the Holograms dolls. Growing up listening to new wave and Madonna it was so COOL to see a character that emulated that style. I got bored with the clothing that the dolls came with, and would make my own from old socks and remnants of old clothing. All of my dolls had endless wardrobe choices.

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    Jun 13, 2011, 10.44 AMby Dee Durrant

    I love this article…. In the UK we had our own version of Barbie….she was called Cindy – well I shunned Cindy in favour of Barbie – my favourite was Benetton Barbie which came out in the late 80’s/early 90’s. I remember begging my Nana to make a new outfit for my Barbie every Sunday afternoon (I distinctly remember making a white/peach speckled crochet skirt suit for Barbie).

    I put a Ken doll on my Christmas list for two years running and never got one – so I chopped off all of Cindy’s hair and dressed her in a pink shell suit (a horrible trend from the early 90’s in the UK) and hey presto I had a ken! Needless to say….after doing this I did get my “sparkly eyes” Ken for Christmas that same year! Seeing these dolls bring back lots of good childhood memories – thank you!

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    Jun 12, 2011, 11.31 PMby nouvellegamine

    wonderful blog post. i love old doll clothes & find them endlessly inspiring too. i’m old enough to have had barbie’s whose clothes weren’t all pink, all the time. my grandma kept my aunt’s barbie’s as well, which were from the 60s. i also had jem dolls which boasted some of the most amazing cyndi lauperesque style ever!

    thank you again for your lovely post! it bring back so many lovely memories.

    1 Reply
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      Jun 14, 2011, 06.51 PMby Peter Lappin

      I never DID understand why Barbie went pink all of a sudden. I think they were trying to market her to younger girls.

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    Jun 12, 2011, 08.27 PMby michbee

    I love it!!! I had 3 Barbies, a Sindy, and one Ken; he was Rock Star Ken and his outfit was horrible. Early 90s tacky one piece to look like fluorescent yellow shirt with leather trousers and tie.

    Peter, looking at your pictures I can’t help but be reminded of Ken in Toy Story 3 with his fabulous wardrobe! Have you seen it?

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    Jun 11, 2011, 01.55 PMby zsyzu

    Wow your dolls have a great wardrobe and they look awesome for their age! I loved my Barbies too. They had a townhouse and were set up. One of my earliest memories was asking my friends mom to fix a snap on her Pucci knockoff minidress. I got into sewing last year when I tried to handsew a dress for a colonial style clothespin doll. Love your article!

    1 Reply
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    Jun 11, 2011, 07.23 AMby clioscolors

    Love this post! I haven’t seen my old barbiedolls in a while, but seeing your collection makes me wanna search for those old toy boxes and all the the little barbie-outfits i made when a was a child :)

    1 Reply
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      Jun 12, 2011, 12.32 PMby Peter Lappin

      Time to start digging! LOL

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    Jun 11, 2011, 03.21 AMby calicocouture

    Love this post too! I am a huge Barbie fan. Check out Silkstone Barbies designed by Robert Best, former Project Runway contestant. The designs are so beautiful, I have at least 7 of the dolls, and love sewing for them.

    These vintage dolls are the whole reason Barbie has been such a fashion icon. It’s a shame the “Pink Box” play line dolls don’t have the same sophistication that the originals did.

    1 Reply
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      Jun 12, 2011, 12.33 PMby Peter Lappin

      I totally agree. At a certain point they just got tacky.

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    Jun 10, 2011, 10.02 PMby urbandon

    I had a GI Joe and although he was all action man- as apposed to those clean cut kids above, he did have some seriously snappy outfits. All that camo and knife holsters in a way inspired my fashion sense. Hell, he even had stubble- just like me. I was fond of his snow camo outfit in white. Sure he could snap the heads off other dolls but he kinda had a sensitive side too and the military parachute was good for some serious draping.

    2 Replies
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      Jun 11, 2011, 08.21 AMby nikotina

      Ohhh, that’s explains a lot !

    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Jun 12, 2011, 12.33 PMby Peter Lappin

      Yes, yes — now I understand…. ;)

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    Jun 10, 2011, 04.52 PMby wzrdreams

    I love Barbie dolls! She and her friends were my muses in my BFA days… I silkscreen printed repro ads and did a series of head shots for her and her friends. I sewed up the clothes patterns I found from the big 4 and the doll magazines, stalked ebay for vintage dolls and took tons of pictures with my macro lenses and printed them large scale. I knit a whitefitted dress for my vintage Barbie and a fluffy wig for her sadly bald head.

    I have the reproduction Midge with the lovely green ballgown that I would debox for a chance to take Prom pics with Alan in a tux!

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    Jun 10, 2011, 03.30 PMby mlakin

    I had Sindy dolls, the UK rival to Barbie. I think they were slightly more realistic anatomically, but probably not much! As I had a knitting grandmother and a sewing grandmother, I had some of the best dressed dolls in town. I guess my grandmothers’ influence, and my Mum’s, planted some kind of seed which is only just starting to grow…

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    Jun 10, 2011, 03.23 PMby ck-paz

    Peter Lappin, does it get better than this?

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Jun 12, 2011, 12.34 PMby Peter Lappin

      Wait till I write about my Chrissy dolls!

  • Enlarged_hilarity-copy_edited_large

    Jun 10, 2011, 02.43 PMby Testosterone

    The details on those clothes are amazing.

    LUV your collection!

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    Jun 10, 2011, 01.45 PMby bombase

    Oh wow what a treasure you have! I loved my barbies and had tons of outfits, i never actually “played” with them, I just spent hours styling them, mix and matching outfits and funky hairstyles! And to think my mum just threw them out one day…… :’(

    1 Reply
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