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March 5, 2021: A six-month postpartum Gigi Hadid opens for Versace's ready-to-wear digital show in Milan, Italy. Her brilliant return to the runway is accompanied by a stunning selection of autumn designs created by the illustrious Donatella Versace. The show takes place on a stunning, geometrically complex set and features some of the fashion industry's most sought-after models. Yet, the one thing on everyone's mind after the Italian label's presentation was unanimous: the shoes, the shoes, oh, and the shoes. More specifically, a pair of satin, platform sandals featuring a five-inch heel shown in a vibrant red, saffron yellow, and a show-stopping bright pink. Already established as the “it-shoe” for the coming fall season, the sandals also represent a refreshing blast from the past. Indeed, current and future trendsetters in the fashion world will likely associate the shoe with a simpler time. Before making their runway début, colorful platform sandals were more likely to be seen on Bratz dolls than Bella Hadid.  However, these shoes are only the latest in a string of doll-inspired items to hit the runway over the past few seasons. 


Toys such as Barbie, Bratz, and Polly Pocket have had visible influence on style in recent years. These dolls were widely-loved, partly due to the creative potential of real clothing collections inspired by their wardrobes. Small dresses, mini high heels, and tiny purses were a staple in every 90's and 2000's kid's fashion collection. And now, 20 years later, the same generation that once dreamed of having Barbie's closet now designs and sells items such as shoulder bags and fur-trimmed cardigans—just a few of the many cult favorites. Prada's famed Re-Edition bag has made its first comeback since its initial release in 2005, and its brushed-leather cousin, the Cleo bag, is predicted to be the 2021 “it-bag” by Harper's Bazaar. As a central part of Prada's winter 2020 campaign, the Cleo bag was portrayed as the ultimate sidekick to the powerful woman entering a new era in 2021. We know that the modern woman can take on the challenges that await in the future with grace, strength, and confidence, but now confronts these obstacles equipped with her trusty Cleo bag.  


Although Barbie has made a revival on the runway in the past year, its manufacturer, Mattel, has experienced backlash over the past decade. As the DEI movement for children's toys has become more prevalent with time, Barbie has been identified as public enemy number one. A slim, blonde-haired girl with blue eyes, Barbie only represents a minority of girls, and as public awareness of inclusivity has increased, her relatability has greatly decreased. Between 2012 and 2014, Barbie saw a 20% decrease in sales, which reflects parents' desires to make more socially conscious choices when buying toys for their children.


However, for the boys and girls who grew up with a Barbie that didn't look like them, they still connected with Barbie via her fashion. Saturday afternoons were spent finding unique combinations of pink, green, and purple outfits and dressing dolls to the nines for imaginary soirées. We hoped that someday our closets would be as bold, imaginative, and empowering as our favorite dolls’, and this dream is now becoming a reality. Gucci brought back pastel rubber sandals for summer, House of Sunny has revolutionized cardigans, and platform shoes have become almost unavoidable. Icons such as Donatella Versace help support women taking great strides while holding their head high by outfitting them with the right shoes. Opening one's closet in the summer of 2021 can finally look like opening the plastic 'Barbie drawer' everyone had in 2005.  


Although these items have returned to the limelight by the world's favorite designers, what makes them so beloved? What is the sudden mass appeal of rubber sandals and shoulder bags? When the world realized that Barbie lacked inclusivity, all the former little boys and girls who looked up at a shelf and failed to identify a doll that looked like themselves finally felt seen and understood. Wearing Barbie, Bratz or Polly Pocket reminiscent clothing represents much more than wanting to experience childhood nostalgia. It means reclaiming clothing that made kids feel excluded or less than, it means embracing the femininity we looked up to as a tool for empowerment, and it means idolizing ourselves rather than an unrealistic portrayal of the "ideal woman." 




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