In 1959, the Mattel toy company debuted what would become its flagship doll: Barbara Millicent Roberts, more commonly known as Barbie. At a time when many of the dolls available in the United States resembled babies or children, Barbie broke the mold by resembling an older teenager or a young adult (more specifically, she looked like the risqué German novelty doll that inspired her).
Because Barbie was a fashion doll who came dressed in a bathing suit, Mattel’s goal wasn’t just to get parents to buy the doll. The doll became a reason for parents to buy Barbie’s outfits. In 1961, Barbie got a boyfriend named Ken, another doll with his own line of clothing that parents could buy. Within a few years, Barbie gained several friends, family members and friends of family members, all of whom—you guessed it—had their own clothing lines, too.
After that, Barbie’s circle of friends and family grew even bigger, and the characters within it evolved, were discontinued and even got pregnant. Here are some of the lesser-known pals from Barbie’s past.
Barbie and Ken's Best Friends
In 1963, Mattel released its third doll in the Barbie line: Barbie’s best friend, Midge. Midge was the same size as Barbie, so they could both wear each other’s clothes. But she also had a distinctively different look from Barbie.
“One of the concerns that several of the early people that worked for Mattel felt was that Barbie might be so glamorous that little girls couldn’t identify with her,” says Bradley Justice Yarbrough, a Barbie collector and historian. “They wanted to create sort of a less glamorous friend of Barbie… So they created Midge.” Unlike Barbie, Midge had freckles and didn’t wear a lot of makeup.
In 1964, Mattel released Ken’s best friend, Allan. Similarly to Barbie and Midge, Ken and Allan were also the same size and could wear each other’s clothes. Mattel retired Allan in the mid-1960s, but seemingly revived him in the early 1990s as Midge’s husband, “Alan.”
In the early 2000s, Mattel received backlash for releasing a version of Midge who was pregnant. After that, she and Alan kept a lower profile. However, a 2023 Barbie movie rekindled interest in Barbie and Ken’s original best friends by featuring actors Michael Cera as Allan and Emerald Fennell as pregnant Midge.
Barbie's Mod Squad
The Barbie who debuted in 1959 had a specific look and style. But by the mid-1960s, teenage fashions were changing, and Barbie was beginning to look a bit dated. U.S. teens were listening to British Invasion bands like The Beatles and eyeing the new Mod fashions in London. Mattel responded to this shift in 1967 by releasing Francie, “Barbie’s ‘MOD’ern cousin” from Britain.
Francie had a slimmer body than Barbie, and she soon gained another British friend, Casey, who was the same size as Francie and could share all her Mod fashions. Mattel also released a Black version of Francie, marketed as “Colored Francie,” using the same head mold as the white version. Technically, this was the first Black doll that Mattel sold in the Barbie line.
With the success of Francie, it was time for all of Barbie’s pals to go Mod, starting with Barbie herself. Barbie got a new face, rooted eyelashes that stuck out like Francie’s, a new hairstyle and groovier clothes. Ken got way buffer, making him unable to fit into his and Allan’s old outfits, and requiring parents to buy his new Mod clothes.
Instead of Mod-ifying Midge and Allan, Mattel discontinued them and replaced them with some new, groovy-looking friends. In 1968, Mattel released Barbie’s friend Christie, the first Black American doll in the Barbie line, who had her own unique head mold. A couple of years later, the company came out with Brad, Christie’s boyfriend and the first Black male doll in the Barbie line. Barbie also got a new friend named PJ, who actually had the same head mold as Midge but wore a lot more makeup.
However, one of the most popular Mod dolls in the Barbie line didn’t actually have a connection to Barbie herself. It was the Barbie brand’s first celebrity doll, Twiggy.
Barbie's Celebrity Pals
In the 1960s, the British model Twiggy was famous for embodying the Mod look. In 1967, the same year that Mattel released Francie and Casey, the company also released a Twiggy doll with short, blonde hair just like the real-life model. The Twiggy doll had the same slim body as Francie and Casey, meaning that all three dolls could wear each other’s Mod clothes.
Following the Twiggy doll’s popularity, Mattel released another celebrity-inspired doll in 1968. This time, the doll was based on child actress Anissa Jones’ character Buffy in the TV show Family Affair. On the show, Buffy had a doll named Mrs. Beasley, and Mattel’s Buffy doll had her own, smaller version of Mrs. Beasley, too. Buffy was the same size as Tutti, one of Barbie’s little sisters who came out in the mid-1960s, so some children already had clothes that would fit her.
In 1969, Barbie expanded its small selection of Black dolls with Julia, a doll based on Diahann Carroll’s character on the TV show Julia. Julia had her own clothing line and was the same size as Barbie and Christie, so children could mix and match their clothes. Mattel continued to make celebrity dolls during the 1970s, but did not make its first Black Barbie doll—who was not Barbie’s friend, but Barbie herself—until 1980.
Barbie's Rebound Boyfriend
Fast forward to 2004. By then, Barbie had gone through many different syles. She’d had a Malibu beachy look in the early 1970s, adopted a “superstar” look in the late '70s, become a glam rocker in the ’80s; and in the ’90s, started wearing elaborately-sequined outfits designed by Bob Mackie.
Then in 2004, right before Valentine’s Day, Mattel announced (in a marketing gimmick) that Barbie and Ken were breaking up. After the breakup, Barbie supposedly started dating Blaine, an Australian boogie boarder doll that Mattel released that year. The relationship didn’t last, probably because Mattel discontinued Blaine, and in 2011, Mattel made another Valentine’s Day announcement: Barbie and Ken were back together again.