Before newspapers and mechanical means of printing, the French used their large dolls to advertise the latest fashions. The doll was used to popularize French fashion abroad. From the 14th century, elaborately outfitted dolls were sent from France to all the courts of Europe, so that royal ladies could have the latest fashions copied right down to the last detail, including the underwear. The clothes would be an exact copy of what the most fashionable ladies would be wearing including the hair. These fashion dolls were considered so important that even wars could not stop them from being dispatched and special passes were given to ships carrying them. These dolls were mainly life size although a few were half life size.

When Henry IV of France was about to marry Marie de Medici as his second wife, he sent her several model dolls "as samples of our fashions", presumably to impress her with the desirability of life at the French court.

The great age of the Fashion doll was the eighteenth century, when European travel became freer, and numerous small continental courts sprang up and flourished, with consequent demands upon the wardrobes of their great ladies. It became the fashion for ladies to own a pair of dolls, one dressed en grand toilette, and the other en déshabille Pandore respectively, and were the subject of every extravagant whim of stylish dressing: hats, dresses, shoes, elaborate hair-styles and a great deal of miniature beads and jewellery.

These Pandoras were sent out by French fashion houses to England, Germany, Spain and Italy in order to exhibit the details of their dress, and sometimes for the details of their coiffure alone.

As their importance grew, the Pandoras came to be known as "poupées de la Rue de Saint-Hororé, or even les grands courriers de la mode.

In 1790, the English invented a new type of Fashion doll, whose popularity lasted throughout the 19th century. It was the flat card or stiffened paper doll figure, onto which could be attached a series of different dresses. Originally they were made about eight inches high and sold for about three shillings, which made them far more economical than the elaborate life-size figures.

The later French doll, now known as a "French fashion doll", had nothing to do with publicising of French fashions abroad but was just a beautiful, luxury doll, although sometimes it may have been used for display in shop windows.

Between 1955 and 1964, a German company called Bild-Zeitung produced a fashion doll based on a cartoon character, called Lilli. The doll was named the Bild Lilli Doll. It was this doll which inspired an American business woman, Ruth Handler, to create the Barbie doll for Mattel, Inc. It was when Mattel acquired the rights to the Bild Lilli doll in 1964, that Lilli stopped being produced.

In 1963, a rival to Barbie sprung up in the UK. She was called Sindy and was the product of Pedigree Dolls & Toys. Between 1968 to 1970, Sindy was the best selling toy in the UK which was partly due to her "girl next door" look. However, when attempts were made to introduce her to the American market, she was changed to look more American and it was hard to compete with the already successful Barbie. Sindy was relaunched in the UK in 1999.

In 1964 the first Palitoy product to be promoted on TV was "Tressy", the twelve inch teenage fashion doll. She came with a special key which when pushed into her back, enabled her hair to grow or withdraw at will. Her retail price was 30 shillings. Tressy came in various hair colourings including dark brown, platinum blonde and beige with "secret strands of matching hair to lengthen or shorten, to provide different hairstyles". The doll was sli and attractive with head and arms of hard vinyl, dressed in a sleeveless shift dress of cotton jersey in lemon or turquoise. Tressy soon acquired a young sister called "Toots" with the same growing hair mechanism. She came only with beige hair and wore a pretty white ballet outfit.

In 2001, MGA Entertainment created the Bratz fashion dolls. They have become a rival for Barbie.


The Collector's Guide to British Dolls Since 1920

Dolls : pleasures and Treasures

Below are some fashion dolls displayed at the The Museum of London and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

  • The Old Pretender Fashion Doll The Old Pretender Fashion Doll

    The Old Pretender Fashion Doll

    A female fashion doll known as 'The Old Pretender doll' from her history. The doll represents a caucasian adult female: her head and body are carved out of separate pieces of wood and are gessoed and painted; her hands are covered in kid leather. Her face is adorned with black beauty spots which were at the height of fashion when she was made. She wears a fontange head-dress with lappets, and a coral-coloured satin dress (now faded) over a blue stomacher and a skirt trimmed with metallic lace and fringe; her legs are covered with linen to represent stockings, and her feet are encased in fabric shoes.

    Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum

  • Fashion doll with solid wax head and limbs Fashion doll with solid wax head and limbs

    Fashion doll with solid wax head and limbs c1755-1765

    This fashion doll has a solid wax head and limbs on wire frame. She has moulded and painted hair and glass eyes and wears a formal court dress of striped and brocaded silk with a wired skirt and is accessorised with a compass hanging at the waist.

    Courtesy of the Museum of London

  • Wooden and carved doll in an 18th century costume Wooden and carved doll in an 18th century costume

    British Wooden Fashion Doll possibly a Pandora c1755-1760

    This wooden and carved doll dates to around 1755-1760. She wears a silk sack back robe with matching petticoat and stomacher. The soft upper arms are attached to the body with wire. A band of human hair has been arranged into a plait and attached to the head with pins. The face is gessoed with brown, red and pink features, and has black and white glass eyes.

    Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum

  • Poured wax fashion doll Poured wax fashion doll

    Poured wax fashion doll c1882-1884

    This fashion doll is made from poured wax and has painted features, glass eyes, mohair wig and cotton body stuffed with cotton. The ress is made of a crimson silk velvet, cream silk lace and blue silk satin. She has feathers and 'pearls' in her hair as well as a 'pearl' necklace and bracelet and fabric flowers at her shoulder and wrist. It is possible she was dressed by court dressmaker, Madame Elise. She is featured on the bac cover of the Museum of London catalogue, "Dolls", published in 1986.

    Courtesy of the British Museum

  • Doc, Chad Valley Cloth Doll Doc, Chad Valley Cloth Doll

    Vivienne, a fine bisque fashion doll

    Vivienne has a fine bisque head with fixed glass eyes and tightly curled mohair wig. She has pierced ears but no earrings and ball-jointed strung composition body. She is dressed in a silk satin formal day dress in gold and peacock blue, trimmed with deep blue silk velvet. Fully lined in white cotton. Large bustle. White lace at neck and wrists. Dress fastens in back with embroidered buttons. Smocking at yoke, bodice and cuffs. Leather shoes and crochet socks, some white cotton underwear. She has been mounted/sewn to a padded cushion and had her shoes pasted to a cardboard base for display purposes.

    Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum

  • Daisy Doll by Mary Quant c1973 Daisy Doll by Mary Quant c1973

    Daisy Doll by Mary Quant c1973

    Daisy Doll is the creation of fashion designer Mary Quant. The doll gets her name from Mary Quant's daisy flower symbol. Daisy was launched in 1973 as a dress up doll, all Daisy's clothes were designed by Mary Quant. Every year a fashion booklet was issued showing new Daisy dolls and her outfits for that year.

    Courtesy of the Museum of London

  • Barbie of Swan Lake c2003 Barbie of Swan Lake c2003

    Swan Lake Barbie Doll as ODETTE w Light Up Wings (2003)

    A plastic Barbie doll (unopened in box). She wears a pink and blue sparkly dress. She also has wings and a tiara. The packaging is clear plastic at the front and card at the back with images of Barbie and associates.

    Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum

  • A plastic fashion doll A plastic fashion doll

    A plastic fashion doll c2003

    The Bratz fashion dolls were released in 2001. With their urban style, they became extremely popular and they are now seen as a rival to Barbie. Since their release the manufacturers have designed many different lines, including this example of the Winter Collection. There is also a huge amount of merchandise associated with the Bratz brand.

    Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert London