Last month, the Arab Fashion Council kicked off the country’s Fashion Week, hosting their first ever in-person Fashion Icon Awards. Barbie absolutely dominated the event, winning 2021’s Fashion Icon of the Year with Moschino’s Jeremy Scott showcasing the brand’s Barbie inspired archive collection. Further cementing Barbie as the so-called icon of 2021, Lebanese star Maya Diab, who won Fashion Icon last year, passed on the title to Mattel’s Senior Vice President of Global Barbie Design – Kim Culmone. In the world of high fashion, catwalks, and awards, Barbie is reigning queen.
But in the real world, where we don’t walk around adorning air-brushed makeup, open toe stilettos and monochrome pink power suits, all of us know that Barbie is not the most iconic doll of the moment. That crown, we have to give to the anti-barbie – the Bratz doll.
Welcome to 2001. A kitschy vision defines the first half of the decade: accessories are bedazzled, iPods are blasting Shakira, low-rise jeans and velour tracksuits are in style, and Bratz dolls make their way to the shelves. Unbeknownst to the Gen-zers begging their parents to buy them one of these 4 dolls, Yasmin, Sascha, Jade and Cloe would dominante not only their childhoods, but would weave their way into the very lining of their future fashion choices in a way that Barbie could never.
You might remember the most recent wave of the Bratz Boom. Two years ago, the makeup looks that set the dolls so far apart from anything on the market, was brought back into the public consciousness. Using the hashtag #BratzChallenge, makeup artists, beauty influencers, and more took to the Net to recreate the signature Bratz look; glossy lips, huge doe-eyes, dramatic lashes. The introduction of TikTok gave the challenge a huge push and you could barely scroll for 10 seconds without being hit with a reminder of the dolls we once all adored.
Not to be left out, fashionistas jumped on the long-living trend. Influencers began recreating outfits worn by the dolls throughout various collections. Just in time for the brand’s 20-year anniversary, Bratz dolls became the ultimate fashion muse of 2021.
The look of Bratz dolls is quintessentially now. Fluffy fabrics, matching sets, platform boots, asymmetrical silhouettes; all are fashion choices made by both the Bratz team in the early 2000’s and Genzers standing in front of their wardrobes each morning in the early 2020’s. Those who once played with these dolls, dressing them up and violently popping on and off their shoes until the right pair was found, are channeling the same unapologetic aesthetic when dressing themselves – minus removing their feet to find the right platform boot. Bratz dolls inspired young fashion lovers and gave them the opportunity to experiment with clothes that their parents would never have let them wear.
Most of us who grew up playing with Bratz still want to dress, look, and act like them. Now we’re grown up there’s nothing stopping us from living out those childhood dreams and walking around in a Bratz verified outfit. Think: sheer socks paired with break-your-ankle platforms, tiny camisoles layered over cap-sleeved baby tees, and plenty of tiny plaid skirts. Ripped jeans, a heap of rubber platform boots, fur shawls and cargo pants embellished with chains….everything that is a 2021 wardrobe staple, can be seen on the original Bratz dolls.
While Barbie paraded about in her limo, lounged in her beach house, and spent time perfecting her au natural makeup look, Bratz dolls encouraged experimentation. “Throw a bunch of colourful eyeshadow on your face and see what it looks like. If you wore a light pink gloss yesterday, why not try a dark red lip today? Try mixing that pink baby dress with some leather – see what happens!” This is what the Bratz taught us to do.
Each Bratz collection and each look in each collection, represented a fearless statement of personal style, rooted in self-confidence. The dolls weren’t telling you what to wear, how to act, or who to be. They were showing you that you could be and do anything you liked, in whatever you chose to wear.
While many people are now dressing specifically to fit the Bratz aesthetic, and looking amazing, we can’t chuck the domination of the Bratz style in 2021 just up to the dolls. A vast variety of the trends worn by the dolls – tiny skirts, clashing prints, mini bags, and fuzzy accessories – align with the current return of Y2K fashion as predicted by the 20-year trend cycle. Bratz were a product of their times, what they wore could’ve been taken directly off any 20-something fashion lover at the time of the millennium. But that doesn’t stand to make them any less fashionable or any less iconic in our current time.
The fashionable foursome made contemporary dressing significantly more fun by encouraging a mixture of fashion from various decades, aesthetics, and subcultures. We had Bratz Rock Angels giving us leather and distressed denim, Bratz Sportz offering polo shirts and plaid, and Winter Wonderland had us all in leg warmers, fuzzy coats and big snow boots. Being exposed to all these different styles, and seeing these fashionable personalities switching out their clothing, woke young minds up to the possibilities of fashion as being more than the refined, reserved look of Barbie.
You know that trend of bleaching the front of your hair that we thought was new in lockdown? Well, Bratz did it first, in 2005 to be exact. They were the original E-girls before the internet even had Youtube. Either we are more subconsciously influenced by these dolls than we thought or they were incredibly ahead of their time – maybe both?
The resurgence of the Bratz look happening when it did, can come down to the conversation of feminine expression. Society has always thrived at devaluing feminine expression that goes against the white-patriachal idea of beauty. Well, Bratz dolls were about as far away from that look as humanly possible (doll-ly possible?). The style of Bratz displayed an image of femininity that was brazen and non-conforming. With their hoop earrings, full lips and dramatic makeup choices, the dolls purposely rocked the underappreciated look of Black and Latina women and they did so on the most diverse range of dolls released at the time.
20 years after their release, society is still determined to dismiss many feminine forms of expression by whatever means necessary; don’t wear make up then you’re not trying hard enough, wear make up and you’re trying too hard, show off some leg and you’re ‘asking for it’, cover up a bit and you’re a prude – what do you want us to do? The attitude and visuals of the Bratz doll was bound to make a comeback when the same arguments against their ideology was again being used to diminish feminine expression through fashion and beauty.
Moral panic may seem like an extreme term to use when simply talking about the appearance of four, self-assured dolls on the shelves of toy stores. But when Bratz first strutted onto the shelves in their signature clunky platforms, it wasn’t just Barbie who ran and hid in her Dream House. Parents of the doll’s fans didn’t all appreciate the joy their children found in Bratz and many refused to buy them, perceiving them as ‘too sexy’ for children’s toys. They felt angst, they had attitude (brat-itude to be precise) and we could tell they were cool, even if we didn’t fully understand why. If only the worried parents could’ve seen the lasting impact Bratz would have on their kids.
Perhaps the controversy was part of their appeal, it’s certainly part of their appeal now as we protest against societal ideas of femininity on the daily. The real draw is more than ‘they look cool’, the dolls’ unique styles complement their personalities and encourage self-expression which are both growing concepts in the fashion of today.
We’re moving into an era where people are being recognised as individuals through their fashion more and more. We’re all tired of being told what to do, what not to do, and we’re increasingly dressing for ourselves to make us feel good. We want to explore our individualism through fashion, and throw on an edgy platform shoe or two to stomp on anyone ready to tell us not to do so.
Three out of the four original Bratz girls weren’t white. In 2001 this definitely wasn’t the norm by a longshot. Decades upon decades of Barbie had shown that dolls with blonde hair and blue eyes sell – well, it’s pretty easy to be the best selling doll when there’s nothing else on the market to compete with.
It’s no surprise that the racially diverse group of dolls were the target of slut-shaming and protest. But Bratz racial diversity is one of the vital reasons why so many kids could relate to them and why people are still so obsessed with them now.
With Bratz it’s more than a ‘passion for fashion’. The brand behind the dolls have been refreshingly vocal about fighting racism; spreading resources, doing more than posting a black square on Instagram in support of the BLM movement, and working to stop asian hate. During US elections, without too harshly pushing their preference, they implored people to use their vote and get their voices heard. Perhaps the most exciting development for many fans came on ‘national coming out day’ when the brand shared a coming out post for their two, new queer dolls Rox and Nevs.
Bratz taught us that it was okay to dress a bit different, to look different, and be different. Those four dolls represented it all for us; from fierce fashion to female empowerment, self-expression and free sexuality. Bratz gave us a more inclusive and empowering vision of femininity, an alternative for those who Barbie never resonated with for whatever reason. Their resurgence should serve us with a reminder of who we all wanted to grow up to be and give us the confidence to be that person. The 2021 Bratz Boom is exactly what we needed; they’re not only style icons but icons of a movement promoting self-assured feminine identity. No hate to barbie; but Bratz are the ultimate 2021 style muse.
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