Mint Museum of Craft + Design

Mint Museum of Art

Charlotte, NC

704-337-2000



 

Little Brides: The Golden Age of Fashion Dolls, 1950-1970

April 1 - September 1, 2000

 

"I made Mom drive around in the station wagon to all the shopping centers to get the wedding dress - that was the best outfit, because it was the most expensive!"

Anonymous Young Girl, early 1960s

 

For centuries, dolls - as miniature human images - have been cherished possessions for children and adults. Charlotte's Mint Museum of Art presents Little Brides: The Golden Age of Fashion Dolls, 1950-1970 featuring 38 dolls in wedding gowns, tuxes and bridesmaid outfits designed especially for them, including the Arnold Scaasi wedding gown used to reintroduce the Alexander Doll Company's Cissy in 1990. The exhibit coincides with the costume exhibition To Have and To Hold: 135 Years of Wedding Fashion on display May 20 - August 13, 2000, in the Belk, Dwelle and Jones galleries. (left: Elsie Bride, 1958)

Dolls have been found in ancient graves as many societies employed rituals that included doll figures. Beginning in the 15th century and continuing into the 18th century, ornately costumed "lady" or "fashion" dolls became popular and replicated, in miniature, fashionable clothing vogues. Early dolls were designed as adult figures with the first "baby doll" introduced around 1710.

After 1860, American doll firms came to prominence and were superior to all others by the 1930s. Innovative designs, including eyes that would open and shut as well as dolls that could drink water and wet themselves, were introduced. After World War II, vinyl plastic allowed doll makers to create features that were easily molded.

In the early 1950s, fashion dolls were again popular as female dolls displayed adult features and arched feet that wore high heeled shoes. A "Golden Age" was established with high fashion dolls and doll clothing that mirrored styles by top European and American designers. Among the most popular doll designs were elaborately dressed bride dolls or bridal outfits. Numerous doll companies enjoyed great success until the mid-1970s when production advantages offered by Asian labor forces came to fore. Sadly, many American doll companies went out of business. Today, few companies enjoy the success of those decades that made up the Golden Age of Fashion Dolls. (left: Ken and Barbie, 1966, Here Comes the Bride)

 

COLLECTING FASHION DOLLS

Vintage and modern dolls have become a serious collecting interest over the last few decades. As with any collecting focus, knowledge of the subject at hand is critical to any would-be collector. Today, collecting modern dolls has increased to include numerous adults and youths, both male and female. In response to this growing number of collectors, a large volume of information on dolls of all kinds has come to light as individuals share their knowledge, research and collecting experiences.

Prices and values have changed greatly and reflect the manufacturing of limited editions and the rarity of many items long out of production. Demand for some popular new dolls has even created a limit per customer at some stores! Many manufacturers, such as Mattel Toys and the Alexander Doll Company, have created "collector editions" for this specialized sector of the marketplace. Of interest to many collectors is the recent development of numerous doll artists who not only reproduce the styles of earlier fashion dolls, but have initiated new methods of doll making and designing.

 

MATTEL TOYS -Manufacturer of Barbie® and Family Dolls

In 1959, Mattel Toys introduced Barbie® doll that was promoted as "a shapely teenage fashion model." Despite initial opposition to the doll's exotic adult features, it soon caught the imagination of the world and a new era of dolls began. Mattel captured the attention of little girls (and some boys) with a massive advertising campaign that was seen on the then new Mickey Mouse Club television show. Early Barbie® dolls had a large wardrobe of high quality clothes to suit most every occasion. Over time, her garments came to represent various careers pursued by women across the country. Eventually, the manufacturing of Barbie® doll clothes would become one of the largest clothing industries in the world!

The basic Barbie® doll has undergone several cosmetic changes over the years, but continues to be highly popular with young children as well as with adult collectors. A number of other dolls entered the Barbie® doll family, including her best friend, Midge, a boyfriend named Ken, a little sister named Skipper, a "Mod" cousin named Francie, and on and on. In addition, there has been a large variety of vehicles, structures with furnishings, pets, and other such playtime accessories.

 

ALEXANDER DOLL COMPANY - (formerly Madame Alexander Dolls)

In 1923, Beatrice Alexander Behrman began her career and earned the title of "Madame Alexander" that became synonymous with the finest made dolls in America. During the 1950s and 1960s the high quality of construction and costuming used to manufacture Madame Alexander dolls became the standard by which the doll industry was measured.

Madame Alexander's motto was, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." She not only demanded the best in her dolls, but had a deep understanding of the dreams of children. By 1952 the company began making "grown-up" dolls that featured high fashion garments made with the finest materials. Madame Alexander won the prestigious Fashion Academy Award for her doll outfits for three consecutive years in the 1950s. Cissy doll, the first full-figured adult figure doll, was an instant success followed by Elise and Cissette.

In 1962, a doll modeled after Jacqueline Kennedy was introduced to replace Cissy and in 1964, Brenda Starr was introduced to challenge Mattel's Barbie® doll. Cissy was re-introduced in 1990 as a limited edition doll dressed by noted designer, Scaasi. Although under new management today, the Alexander Doll Company continues to manufacture high quality fashion dolls. In this exhibition, the "bridal wreath" gown appears on Cissette and also is seen on an Elise doll elsewhere in the gallery.

 

IDEAL DOLL COMPANY

The Ideal Toy Corporation, one of America's largest and oldest manufacturers of dolls and toys, produced high quality dolls for over ninety years. Early successes included the original Shirley Temple doll. In 1956, Miss Revlon dolls (made in 15", 18" and 20" sizes) were introduced and became a leader in fashion dolls. Miss Revlon was among the first dolls with high-heeled feet and a "full figure", a polite way of saying she had figure of an adult woman. "Little Miss Revlon" premiered in 1958 and was a demure 10-1/2" tall. The Revlon Cosmetics name was used with permission but the doll had no connection with the cosmetic company.


AMERICAN CHARACTER DOLL CORPORATION

The American Character Doll Corporation was founded in 1918 and made some of the finest dolls of the 1950s and 1960s until its demise in 1968. The success of their 8" tall Betsy McCall doll generated over 100 different outfits for this little miss. The name, "Betsy McCall" is a registered trademark of the McCall Magazine corporation. In 1952 the magazine introduced Betsy McCall as a paper doll with outfits for little girls to cut out and play with. The first Betsy McCall dolls were 14" tall, but it was the 8" version made in 1957 that was the most popular (and remains so today with collectors).

 

VOGUE DOLLS, INC.

Founded by Mrs. Jennie Graves in the early 1920s, the company began to specialize in hard plastic dolls in the late 1940s. Her most successful doll was the eight inch Ginny Doll that premiered in 1952. She was a little girl doll and in 1957, the ten inch tall Jill, Ginny's teenage sister, was created and featured high heeled feet and an adult figure. In 1958, Jeff doll was created as a boyfriend figure for Jill. The company experienced difficulties in the late 1960s and never recaptured the success that was enjoyed in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1973, Vogue Dolls, Inc was purchased by a foreign company and the dolls were no longer made in the United States.

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