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Modern Day Barbie Less of a High-Maintenance Gal

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GIRLIE SHOW
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“Barbie, you’re beautiful. You make me feel my Barbie Doll is real...” began the first ever Barbie commercial when it debuted in 1959. During an episode of ABC’s the Mickey Mouse Club, America got its first glimpse of the girlie plaything that would become the worldwide ambassatrix of dolls.

Despite being a stone’s throw from the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Barbie Doll, marketed as a “teenage fashion model,” clad in zebra-striped bathing suit and high heels with fantastical physical proportions, was an instant hit as the de facto beauty ideal for a new generation of girls. “Barbie, beautiful Barbie,” the television ad concluded, “I’ll make believe that I am you.”

Barbie was in such high demand when she hit the market, Mattel (MAT) had to spend three years catching up with demand. Priced at just $3, the affordability of Barbie was brilliantly deceiving. The real cost was hidden in the accessories -- the clothes that made the woman. No respectable fashion show can go on, after all, without a substantial collection of couture gowns, hand bags, hats, gloves and jewelry.

As years passed and merchandising progressed, Barbie would need a place to live. And not just some middle class split-level either. This Carrie Bradshaw-predecessor wasn’t fit to dwell in anything less than an elevator-outfitted city townhouse or sprawling Dream House with a swimming pool. She’d zip around town in her flirty pink convertible Corvette, make high-profile appearances in Pixar (DIS) films, and when she was looking for a weekend getaway in the country, she didn’t take any ordinary Winnebago. She had a “glamour camper.”

However, if you assumed that the cost of Barbie would have soared right alongside her popularity over the years, you’d be wrong. A price comparison, conducted by The Awl, actually shows a baseline decrease between the Barbie of yesteryear and the one likely to be on your daughter’s list this holiday season. This is how the doll, translated into 2011 dollars, has fared price-wise over time.

1959—Barbie Fashion Doll: $23.26
1964—Skipper: $13.95
1965—Eveningwear Ensemble: $17.47
1969—Mod Fashion Ensemble: $12.28
1971—Malibu Barbie: $10.85
1975—Pink Gown Ensemble: $16.79
1988—TV Game Show Set: $22.95
1992—Teen Talk Barbie: $40.35
1992—Barbie's Dream House: $274.34
1997—Share a Smile Becky: $32.43
2011—Beach Barbie: $6.99
2011—tokidoki Barbie: $50
2011—Barbie’s Dream House: $159.00

Not only is today’s boilerplate Barbie $16.27 cheaper than her earliest ancestor, the Dream House is half what it was in 1992.

Your parents’ incessant “In my day...” speech may deserve a listen after all.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.
TICKERS:  NYSE:DIS, NYSE:MAT   

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