At 60 years old, Ken is still rocking those red shorts and hanging out on the beach with his shirt off.
On March 11, the 60th anniversary of Ken’s debut, Mattel launched a reproduction of the original Ken doll. In addition to his red shorts, the doll also comes equipped with a yellow towel, red sandals, and short felt hair.
Ken is two years younger than Barbie, who debuted in 1959. Barbie was based on the German doll, Bild Lilli, a more risqué doll which was marketed toward a more adult audience. While not fully pornographic in nature, the Bild Lilli doll came about as a result of saucy German comics in which Lilli spent a lot of time in her under clothes or bathing suits making adult jokes. The dolls were marketed in tobacco shops as a gag gift, or in flower stands for young men to give to their girlfriends.
While Mattel left the adult aspects of Lilli out of Barbie, moms in the United States still considered Barbie a “toy for dads” and refused to have the dolls in their houses. Exacerbating the issue was the fact that Barbie, like Ken, originally appeared in a swimsuit in order to encourage the purchase of more clothes and accessories.
But Mattel won moms over the very next year with the debut of Barbie in a wedding dress. This appealed to the more conservative mindsets of the time, especially in regards to gender roles and home life. While arguably not the most laudable start for America’s most iconic doll set, Mattel nevertheless cracked glass ceilings with the dolls by outfitting them for just about every career imaginable.
“That was really what the pattern was, that you bought a single doll and then you would add the different fashions to play out the different careers and rolls that the dolls would play,” said Robert Best, Barbie senior director of design at Mattel. “Ken, much like Barbie, has always been a reflector of the times that he lives in.”