Barbiecore is the fashion trend of the moment. Since Pierpaolo Piccioli’s vivid pink runway for Valentino, celebrities like Anne Hathaway, Megan Fox, Lizzo, and Zendaya have all dazzled runways with bright, bold, monotone pink looks that wouldn’t be out of place in a Barbie dream house. So why is this culturally significant? Barbiecore is a rejection of the pressure to avoid girliness in order to get taken seriously by guys – and it comes with a feeling of feminine power.
On Wednesday we wear pink? Try every day we wear pink, because Barbiecore is the fashion trend of the moment.
“If you are going to incorporate Barbiecore in the workroom opt for a skirt suit” - Tiffany Reid, Good Morning America
Since Pierpaolo Piccioli’s vivid pink runway for Valentino, celebrities like Anne Hathaway, Megan Fox, Lizzo, and Zendaya have all dazzled runways with bright, bold, monotone pink looks that wouldn’t be out of place in a Barbie dream house. So why is this culturally significant?
Well, pink is the most stereotypically feminine color. That’s why “not like other girls” and “cool girl” types tend to avoid it – taking on masculine tastes to gain male approval.
Barney: “Emilio, the woman will have–”
Robin: “I’ll have a Johnnie Walker blue, neat, and a Monte Cristo, number two.”
- How I Met Your Mother, 1x14
So Barbiecore is a rejection of this pressure to avoid girliness in order to get taken seriously by guys – and it comes with a feeling of feminine power. Meanwhile, it’s coincided with a bigger rise in Gen-Z maximalism, as pandemic fatigue makes everyone eager to live to the fullest. And it speaks to the resurgence of Barbie as a Gen-Z-friendly brand. The 2023 Barbie movie, helmed by feminist filmmaker Greta Gerwig and produced by star Margot Robbie, suggests a more alternative, self-aware kind of Barbie film. The doll herself has branched out too, incorporating different sizes and skin tones, more explicitly aligning itself with millennial and Gen-Z values.
Here’s our take on Barbiecore, and why the fun act of reclaiming this hot pink femininity can still be so fraught with controversy, debate, and criticism.
Barbiecore is a 2022 neologism, but it fits in with a larger trend of maximalism that Gen-Z has been adopting for the past few years. While millennials stripped everything back and embraced cool, clean lines, Gen-Z have gone the other way, throwing everything against the wall.
Emma O’Regan-Reidy argues that maximalism is a post-pandemic response, related to our “current desire for a sensory overload because of the sensory limitations that resulted from COVID-19 regulations.” Barbiecore feeds into a similar thing by making every outfit a lush, eye-catching outfit meant to be seen. Which is why it’s found such a home on red carpets. At Valentino’s Rome Fashion Week show, everyone embraced this hot pink look. For Anne Hathaway it was hot pink sequins and huge platform shoes; for Ariana Debose it was pink roses like an Alice In Wonderland queen, and for Florence Pugh it was a provocative sheer dress that nearly broke the internet.
“Her pink floor length generated considerable chatter for its see-through material with the actress facing negative comments and body shaming from internet trolls.” - ET Canada
While the general public may not get the same designer dresses and high fashion shows, we share that desire to make every night a moment, after we’ve been starved of this for so long. The garishness of Barbiecore is in keeping with maximalism’s rejection of the notions of “good taste.” We can see this in other recent trends, like the re-emergence of Crocs shoes, Velour tracksuits, and low-rise jeans. It’s not just that dressing like a Barbie was considered too girly, it’s that Barbie was also a kind of low culture – something sophisticated adults were meant to have grown out of. Pink was feminine, but it was also immature, and that’s also what’s being challenged.
Arguably, the Barbie brand has always been maximalist. She’s always branched out into different jobs and different looks. People have always dressed their Barbies in a wide variety of outfits. She’s always been a means for people to mix and match with different accessories and styles, allowing that play and experimentation we see in maximalist fashion influencers like Sara Camposarcone and Anna Golka-Yepez. And really, the embrace of Barbiecore is a statement that you can wear bright, pink, girlish colors, and not be defined by the reductive, negative connotations that have been associated with them. You can contain multitudes, like Barbie always has.
Redefining the Bimbo
A generation ago, this hot pink, highly feminine aesthetic would almost certainly have led to women being labeled as bimbos. Singin’ in the Rain’s Lina Lamont wears a full pink suit, with matching pink hat, when she’s insisting the studio doesn’t replace her with an actress who can actually sing. Pink is also seen as a shorthand for a shallow, materialistic woman. In Marilyn Monroe’s ode to opulence, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” her glamorous dress and long gloves are in almost that exact shade of Valentina pink. The first time we meet Elle Woods is when she’s wearing a tie-dyed pink top, with her dog matching – and it creates an impression of airheaded lack of seriousness that Elle has to overcome by proving she’s more than what people first see; Regina George’s mom’s introductory outfit in Mean Girls pink athleisure reinforces her lack of attention to the things that matter in parenting; and in Scrubs the pejorative nickname Dr. Cox has for Elliot is, you guessed it, Barbie.
“My God Barbie, how do you put your bra and panties on in the morning? All by yourself! It’s remarkable!” - Dr. Cox, Scrubs 1x12
So there has always been this association between Barbie pink and…well, stupidity. When Paris Hilton rose to prominence in the 2000s, leaning into this ditzy, airheaded persona, she did it wearing pink. In 2001, her pink dress and tiara was paired with a Barbie handbag, her California 21st birthday party saw her wear another sheer pink dress, and if we could associate Paris with any one brand or fashion trend, then surely pink Juicy Couture tracksuits have got to be it.
“I’ve always been obsessed with wearing lots of pink.” - Paris Hilton, Vogue
But in recent years, there’s been a more powerful move to both reclaim hyperfemininity and to redefine the bimbo figure herself. Professional bimbo Alicia Amira has spoken about the power she takes in being able to choose how she looks. She speaks about wanting to empower others, by showing women they can and should lean into their own femininity, and not worry about accusations of shallowness.
“If you look hyperfeminine, you are then stupid, and I just don’t think that that’s fair.” - Alicia Amira, This Morning
On TikTok, Chrissy Chlapecka has become a viral phenomenon by adopting a bimbo persona, but she regularly posts about substantive topics like mental health, politics, gender, and women’s rights.
“If you don’t wanna grab the patriarchy by the balls and throw it into a burning hot pink volcano then…we’re gonna have to talk.” - Chrissy Chlapeck, TikTok
Previous iterations of the bimbo character are depicted as completely oblivious to social issues, living in a world of their own, and seeming to exist predominantly for male attention.
Barbiecore and this new bimbofication of culture share similar aims. Both challenge the societal idea that women can have either brains or beauty — never both.
“She’s actually a radical leftist who’s pro sex work, pro Black lives matter, pro LGBTQ, pro choice, and will always be there for her girls, gays and theys.” - Chrissy Chlapeck, TikTok
For bimbos, the acceptance of cosmetic surgery and body modification touches on this maximalist idea of playing dress up with yourself and ignoring conventions around good taste.
21st Century Woman
Society seems to be in a constant state of redefining the ideal woman, both in terms of who she is, and what she looks like. The ’50s ideal woman was a housewife and mother. The ’80s ideal was a power-suit-wearing go-getter. The ’90s version was all girl power, and the 2010s version was a girl boss. Each time, the corresponding look was a key part of representing the one path women should be taking.
“Millions of girls will grow up thinking this is the right way to act, that they can never be anything more than vacuous ninnies whose only goal is to look pretty, land a rich husband.” - Lisa, The Simpsons 5x14
Now, though, culture is more fragmented, and so instead of one thing, we have many feminine ideals fighting for space in the mainstream: Barbies, bimbos, sad girls, and tradwives – all of whom describe their various brands of femininity as to some extent empowering and feminist. Charlotte Ivers again credits the shifting social structures brought about by the pandemic with this flourishing of different collective identities: “During the pandemic we were all forced to look at our lives with new eyes. Were we happy? Did the things we had spent years working towards mean anything? Now, as we rebuild from the foundations, it is no surprise that many of us are searching for new identities to cling to, new rulebooks to follow.”
Since these differing movements often clash against each other, there’s always some room for backlash. BimboTok has garnered a lot of criticism for essentially trying to have its cake and eat it too: trying to reclaim a male fantasy aesthetic but still, essentially, be a male fantasy.
“The aesthetic you’re embodying involves shelling out many thousands of dollars to the multi-billion dollar uber-capitalistic global beauty industry.” - Daisy Cousens, YouTube
And many react judgmentally to the Barbiecore look, too, not really getting the point of what it’s about. When Florence Pugh posted the image of her sheer Valentino dress on her Instagram, plenty of people talked about how good she looked, but she also got tons of abuse and criticism about whether she was hot enough to pull something like that off. Florence replied on her Instagram with the flamboyant confidence that defines Barbiecore’s spirit: “It isn’t the first time and certainly won’t be the last time a woman will hear what’s wrong with her body by a crowd of strangers… Thankfully, I’ve come to terms with the intricacies of my body that make me, me… What’s more concerning is… Why are you so scared of breasts? ... Grow up. Respect people.”
The episode revealed that whenever women try to reclaim something that’s been taken away from them, they will still be told to know their place — but Barbiecore is really about not accepting that place and refusing to be confined to any limiting box.
What Barbiecore really shows is how strong the Barbie brand is because of how it evolves over time. Gen-Z has embraced Barbie, and Barbie has embraced Gen-Z, projecting an image that feels inclusive and forward thinking, and safe to be re-embraced by young women of all types. The interesting thing will be how she changes next.
Mower, Sarah. “Valentino.” Vogue, 7 Mar. 2022 https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/fall-2022-ready-to-wear/valentino
O’Regan-Reidy, Emma. “How gen Z swapped Millennial Minimalism with Maximalism in the Quest for Stimulation.” Screenshot, 1 July 2022 https://screenshot-media.com/the-future/trends/maximalism-new-minimalism/
Ivers, Charlotte. “Trad Wife, Feral Girl or Bimbo? Women Are Struggling to Find a Solid Identity in a Fluid World.” The Times, 26 June 2022 https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/trad-wife-feral-girl-or-bimbo-women-are-struggling-to-find-a-solid-identity-in-a-fluid-world-73zz7h6q2