Sunday 26 December 2021

Celebrating half a lifetime of doll collecting (next week)

The doll that started it all was the 2004 California Girl Barbie. At that time I couldn't even dream I would have more than the one doll, let alone a collection of over a hundred, so I spent weeks choosing the best option. I was turning 17 and my parents let me have a real Barbie for my birthday. I had plenty of dolls when I was a kid, but I never liked Barbie. My sister and I played with hefty child dolls that we either held birthday parties for, or took to the "doctor". I didn't understand the appeal of the grown-up skinny doll with tiny accessories that got lost. Even when I grew up a little and became interested in fashion, I didn't like her grinning face with electric blue eyes. At that time Barbie had one rival, it was Sindy during her normally-sized head phase. Even though I never as much as held either of these dolls, I was team Sindy all the way and an ardent Barbie hater. But time passed, I changed, and most importantly, Barbie changed... so in a couple of years I found myself longingly eyeing the doll shelves.

My first fashion doll actually came some five years earlier and was what I determined later to be a Sindy clone. 

Meet Wendy!

It was the cheapest possible doll, but I liked her face. It was not a fulfilling purchase though. She had ponytail rooting, her curls felt like steel wool, her shoes didn't fit and the plastic of her body was so thin and bad, I've seen toothpaste cap seals that were nicer. I made some clothes for her, but I wanted to change hairstyles too. My classmates laughed at my ignorance about doll "baldness", and informed me that cheap dolls are always bald, and that only Barbie can be brushed like people because they have real horse* hair. 
*Barbie has synthetic hair! I guess they weren't properly informed either...

After that discovery, I couldn't help but check out the Barbie shelves every time I was in stores where they were sold and see if I could find one that was both affordable and had nice hair. I didn't realise it at the time, but the Superstar era had come to an end, and Barbie received the new GG face and the Bellybutton body. They were not the same dolls I hated with a passion only years before. I didn't notice the difference in sculpts, but I liked the new style of face paint. It was only after the purchase, when I took my new Barbie to a classmate's house where she had a couple of Superstar Barbies that I understood it was the dolls that had changed, not my taste (she pointed out and criticised the skinniness of the new legs, arms, the "cheapness" of the rooting and crooked haircut, the sluttiness of the makeup and honestly made me feel a bit poop - let's just say there are reasons we haven't talked in years).

Anyway, my first Barbie almost happened a year earlier, if not for the painted on swimsuits. But the year 2004 brought a budget beach line with proper clothes, and with the winter holidays sales, my chance had come! I hesitated between Christie and Barbie, I liked Christie's face more but really wanted straight hair. I came with both my parents to the store and got an excellent deal for the doll. We were entered in a lottery (and won a fashion pack the following month). I was so excited. I must have confused the hell out of the sales ladies when I asked if the doll has real hair! I cringe at how gullible I was back then. Luckily they understood what a big deal it was for me and even slipped me their store catalogue that wasn't for sale. I still keep it!

I leafed through it so often, thinking of all the dolls I would like to get if I had the money!

I'll talk about those in a bit, but let's check out California Barbie first.

This is not the actual doll I received for my birthday. Unfortunately, her being my first fashion doll also meant that she was the first victim to my customization experiments. I still haven't finished fixing my mistakes, but last year I decided to buy a replacement and reminder of that first special doll. She was roughed up and very cheap on eBay. Later it turned out that almost half of her hair length was cut, but it's not too visible from the front. I put the head on the old scuff free body and gave her the full outfit I'd kept, made new earrings and combined elements of the two necklaces into a removable one. I also gave her some white sneaker sandals so that her bare high-heeled feet didn't look odd. I would love to get my hands on a head with the hair as long and neat as it was originally, but I won't be going out of my way or budget to look for one, either. For now, I'm happy with how the reconstruction of my first doll turned out.

This year I'm turning 34, and after this point I will have been a doll collector for more than half of my life. I figured it would be a good idea to celebrate this milestone with other 2004* dolls I gathered over the years, more specifically, dolls that were featured in that old catalogue.
*Some are technically from 2003. I'm going with the cover that said "2004 collection"

One line that completely fascinated me was Trendy Bendy Cool Lookz. They have very long hair with special stiff fibers mixed in, twisted into braids. The special fibers allow the hair to be curled or straightened and it will instantly hold the shape pretty well. Each doll came with two colourful hair extensions with special fibers, a set of hair tools and accessories, and wore futuristic shiny outfits. Barbie was purple, Teresa was hot pink and Asha (not pictured) was orange. Teresa was my first purchase from the "dream catalogue". I liked the shape of her outfit, her hair colour and she was the only one with rope braids, and not simple twists. I have a photo from 2016, probably soon after I'd got her. I'd braided her extensions to match the rest of her hair. She was new and her outfit looked great. She was a dream come true. 

I still wanted the purple suit and extensions, so I got Barbie used last year, at the same time as the replacement California Girl. When she arrived, I got Teresa out for a welcome photoshoot. If only I had done that earlier! Her suit had cracked and peeled and was looking much worse than Barbie with a hole over her breast. I patched the worst areas with glue and paint, but there's no saving these clothes. These are the last photos I took with Teresa's original look. 

Anyway, it's not the time to elaborate on the shortcomings of these dolls. I still think the line was very fun to play with, but also very misunderstood. As soon as the box and instructions were gone and the hair tools scattered, children would forget about the special features of the hair. So many of these dolls became anonymous, disheveled, ending up in the hands of clueless owners who didn't know what to do with their unusual hair. I see them on eBay, in product reviews and even on doll blogs.

Recently, a lot of Trendy Bendy heads ended up on aliexpress. It was an easy decision for me to get Asha to complete the collection, since I didn't care about any of the orange things or her outfit. I don't have her at home yet, but my friend who helped with the logistics sent me photos: 

I recognised another aliexpress head as the Barbie mermaid from my catalogue. I'm not into mermaids, but I like long and colourful hair. I put her on a fake Swappin Style body.

In this series, Barbie has a purple streak and tail, Lea - teal, and Asha (again, not pictured) - orange. I actually prefer Asha with her striking platinum and orange hair out of this trio, but she is very hard to find. Barbie is my least favourite.

I managed to get Lea though, which is almost as good. My friend will send me the heads in the next mail exchange, meanwhile here's a photo:

Serena the former pink Sparkle Fairy made a brief appearance on Tess' restoration post. She was in very bad shape on a pile of flea market garbage. Fairies aren't my cup of tea, but she was really cheap and I took a chance.

She ended up very different from her catalogue counterpart, which is perfectly fine by me. The Sparkle fairies consisted of three identical sculpt (GG) dolls - pink, purple and blue (not pictured). They have shimmery pale tinted skin and colourful hair, but not nearly as bright as the promo suggests. 

I would love the purple one if I could get her very cheap, but in spite of my love for purple, I have to admit the pink one is the best. Her hair has a pleasant, still vivid colour and her skintone makes her the most human-like. I haven't forgotten about her makeover post, I will write it at some point. The good news is that our proper camera is now fixed, but I still have a lot of trouble with lighting in this apartment. She was a fun project and I'm happy to have her in my collection. She completes my 2004 roundup... for now.

The mermaids and fairy were accidental finds that happened to be from the year my collection began. Trendy Bendy were some of the few dolls I specifically searched for. Another was Fashion Show Glam to Rock.

I liked her multifunctional wardrobe, fun colours and patterns and her hairstyle. Unfortunately, she turned out to be quite different from the promo - most notably, her cool fur legwarmers became fur-trimmed rain boots. With a price tag starting at 50$, I decided to pass.

The last page featured collector dolls. I love everything about the Aragorn doll, but he is only sold in a set with Arwen and the set is very expensive. Below are some Princess dolls: Greece, England and Cambodia. All of them are very beautiful, but I don't see myself gathering a collection of traditional outfits from around the world and they don't fit in otherwise. I might squeeze Princess of England into my expanding collection of European historical outfits (accurate and inspired) some day.

The little catalogue didn't feature all the 2004 doll releases, so I don't know if I saw any for sale without knowing. Not that they would hold the same weight as the ones I admired for years in my first doll wishlist. Still, I felt a familiar nostalgia when Farrah of Cozy Comforts and Dolls featured the 2004 Holiday Barbie in her Dolliday countdown.

I am now also considering the Halloween Enchantress from the same year.

The 2000s remain my favourite decade of Barbie dolls. Part of it is nostalgia, sure, part of it is genuine creativity and attention to details. I'm very glad to celebrate 17 years of collecting dolls with not one, but five full dolls and two heads on the way from the year when my adventure began.

Do you have any special memory about the beginning, or another significant moment of your collector journey? Do you have themed collections? I would like to hear from you in the comments.



  1. What a great and sweet post, so glad you could find and restore so many treasures! ♡♡♡♡♡♡ I especially love your adventures with your first Barbie ^^ And I love Serena's restoration as well. My first Barbie came when I was very young (7yo), it was expensive but mom got it because I was bugging her for ages to get me a Barbie (actually I wanted any fashion doll with the "grown up" body, but I called them all barbies). But she was excited, because she too was a doll lover, and up to loving Barbies I was a toy destroyer kid ^^' I can't say my first Barbie survived (my older brother is mostly to blame for that, though) but I still have her outfit. At 14 I thought I was too old for dolls, but at 21 I saw Spring Blossom on an Avon catalogue and fell in love again, this time for good. And mom was overly excited with that ^^ For years we'd go to toy stores together, most times we didn't get anything but would spend a good time checking everything there, even plushies! In the times when she could give me a doll, she'd say, "Are you sure this is the one? Be sure to check them all carefully, because each face is different. See this one, and this one, even though they seem to be the same, each face is unique, just like twins! Pick the one you like best". To this day I still spend a looong time checking the faces and details before I settle for one ^^ Dolls are such a wonderful source of joy, good memories and creativity, they made the difference for me through many of the bad times. I wish everyone would have toys. As for a theme, I don't care much about it. I have from horror dolls to fairytale princesses. My favorite thing I'd say is the diversity of faces and bodies (probably because of so many years seeing and having just the Superstar and GG molds xD), also because I see many of my dolls as characters with their own personalities.
    Anyway, I'm so glad you found some of the dolls you wanted! The heads are wonderful too. Hope you get all the other treasures in your want list ^^ Big hugs!

    1. Aww, looks like you have many good memories of doll shopping with your mum! I often forget we're from different generations and your first dolls are a bit older than mine. Did you keep your Spring Blossom? I got two Avon dolls recently, but only for their outfits, not because I'd seen them before. As long as I can remember, our Avon catalogues didn't have any dolls. I tend to get dolls I either like for any reason or ones that are unwanted/damaged/bundled. Over time they converge into subcollections and themes, like this 2004 one, or crazy hair colours, or by head sculpt, etc. I was wondering how other people group their dolls, and whether filling/completing a group is intentional.

    2. Yes, I still have Spring Blossom! :D I really need to take more pics and share. After that I never found another Barbie on the catalogue (though with Spring Blossom there was another one, Blue Velvet, but I didnt care much about her). I think I saw SB that day just to start this passion ^^ Mom had a lot of fun too over the years, she was always a doll lover, and was pretty happy to get us both in the doll world. She had a small bunch of her own too, though not near as much as she should.. I'm with you on getting damaged dolls and giving them new life, it's one of the most rewarding feelings ♡♡♡♡♡ And I too many times got a doll just for an outfit, a head that I like, or even just for the shoes sometimes xD

  2. What a fun and interesting post! I never knew you could by doll heads from Ali Express, wow! Thank you for the shout out as well. :) I really like that Lea mermaid head you featured..I agree, the mermaids in that line are a bit hard to find, but they are really pretty. I also like the fairy ones with the pink, purple and blue hair. The 2000s were the main year that I didn't collect Barbie, so I honestly don't really seek them out from this era, but I really do like the Dolls of the World from all eras so I hope to add some of those to my collection. I got my first Barbie when I was about 4 years old and I still remember her. She was Golden Dreams Barbie from 1980. I must've gotten her used, because I would've only been 1 when she actually came out, but I still have the memory of getting her!

    1. That is really cool that you remember your first doll! Do you still have her? I like dolls with unusual hair colours so the mermaid and fairy heads are great.

  3. Congrats on a milestone in doll collecting! I got my first Barbie, a Malibu Barbie, from an aunt when I was around seven or eight. My mother never really liked us having Barbie dolls, I don't think, but my sisters and I acquired a decent amount as kids. I was mostly into mine for fashions, too. I did clumsy hand-sewn outfits for them, until I moved out, and Mr. BTEG bought me a sewing machine and I started really learning how to sew. He also bought me my first adult collector doll, a Caboodles Barbie. That was for my 25th birthday, and I'm 53 now, so I guess I have been collecting over half my life too!

    Your group of Barbies here works very well together. Asha is one of my favorite face sculpts; I think she'll look good with your crew too. If you're interested, AliExpress has also started selling Integrity heads as well as Barbie ones. Glad to see a post from you.

    1. Thank you! I like the outfits you've sewn that I've seen on your blog. It's nice to have a supportive husband :)
      The heads I've shown did come from aliexpress, they just didn't ship to my country for over a year, so I sent them to a friend's address.

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