Tannya Villalvazo is a designer, image consultant, and writer from California. After completing her bachelor in English (Literature), she moved to Bolivia, where she studied fashion and interior design and then went on to receive training in the field of personal imaging and sustainable fashion from C&E Imagen & AICI in Buenos Aires. She has a strong focus on fashion research and has been a speaker at various fashion design and personal imaging events around the world. Since 2017, she has been a lecturer in the Department of Fashion Design at various universities in Bolivia, where she teaches courses on “History of Fashion Design,” “Trends and Style,” and “Personal Imaging” @tgv_designs


Why does the human psyche label certain characteristics of design, including colors, proportions, silhouettes, and textures “weird”? Why are we inclined to judge and categorize appearances as acceptable or not, within or beyond the norm? Fashion challenges us to find the beauty in all elements of design, whether eccentric to our eyes or not, and to be brave enough to embrace our essence in the face of the world’s inclination to judge or marginalize.

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie film introduces us to the character of Weird Barbie (played by Kate McKinnon), the “broken” Barbie familiar to any viewer who once attempted to re-style their conventional dolls. Weird Barbie thinks outside the box, and her creative style is a crucial aspect of her character, manifesting wisdom and power in individuality.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, known for his ideas on individualism, asserted that: "the individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself." [1] In the face of societal pressure, it requires a certain level of confidence and self-assuredness to persist in being yourself through style—a confidence Weird Barbie embodies. She follows in the lineage of unconventional style heroes including those explored below: David Bowie, Iris Apfel, Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, and the Mad Hatter, all of whom I’ve identified as sharing with Weird Barbie an embrace of individuality, a deeply creative essence, and a desire to flee convention.

In setting Weird Barbie up as a foil for Stereotypical Barbie, Gerwig encourages us to see our choice: to remain in an impeccably crafted box, even if that leaves you forgotten in a basement, or to let our style be directed by joy (what fashion psychologists call “dopamine dressing”), even if it means facing criticism. Style, as distinct from fashion, can be like a visual poem, born from the depth of the individual’s soul.

Special edition Weird Barbie doll courtesy of Mattel.
Weird Barbie represents the avant-garde, the edge of fashion where trends are first viewed as bizarre, only to become accepted or even celebrated later in a process of appropriation. Though this kind of change and evolution is inevitable, some styles are consistently within the realm of “normal” while others are forever “weird” within the Western context.

  • Cautious with design, risk-averse. Neutral and muted. Simple in silhouette and volume. Clean lines, adhering to gender norms. Natural makeup, simple hairstyles.

  • Bold, vibrant color, unusual silhouettes and cuts, unexpected materials. Layering, challenging notions of fit and form (exaggerated proportions), androgynous or gender-bending design, re-wearing styles from past eras, handmade items. Mixing and matching prints and textures. Experimental makeup and hair, including unnatural colors. An attitude of fearlessness, confidence, and open-mindedness.

Bardot ensemble inspired by the 1960s sex symbol Brigitte Bardot and Weird Barbie’s creative style. By Tannya Villalvazo.

“[Weird Barbie] is the only doll who has been socially discarded, exiled to the outskirts of Barbieland, living in a lopsided home of odd angles and clashing colors. The other Barbies regard it with suspicion and disdain, yet they all proclaim that only she can save Barbieland..”

Weird Barbie is introduced to us when Stereotypical Barbie goes to her in search of guidance to confront the existential crisis she is experiencing. Only Weird Barbie can help on this quest. She appears with dazzling self-confidence, dressed in a majestic bright-pink, paint-splattered voluminous dress that simulates an artist’s canvas. It has puffed sleeves and a bright orange tulle hemline. She wears vibrant pink pantyhose and pairs the outfit with neon yellow snakeskin boots. She sports a platinum blond-highlighted-pixie do that jolts out in every direction.  Her face has glittery makeup with colorful squiggly pen marks. Every aspect of her is beautifully different. According to the film’s costume designer, Jacqueline Durran, while Stereotypical Barbie’s style is “very accessible and easy to understand” in a delicate pastel palette, Weird Barbie’s style is very bold “high fashion and conceptual” in highly saturated tones. [2]

Her looks, and even her Dreamhouse, deviate from the norm and fuse with her creative personality. She is the only doll who has been socially discarded, exiled to the outskirts of Barbieland living in a lopsided home of odd angles and clashing colors. [3] The other Barbies regard it with suspicion and disdain, yet they all proclaim that only she can save Barbieland. Her status as an outcast allows her to cultivate a different kind of wisdom, shaped by her unique experiences and interests. Gerwig encourages us to reevaluate our definitions of beauty and worth by introducing a character like Weird Barbie, who does not conform to traditional or mainstream ideas of beauty, fashion, and behavior that are associated with the classic Barbie image.

Out of Orbit Mod ensemble inspired by the 1960s Apollo Mission and Weird Barbie’s creative style. Fashion sketch by Tannya Villalvazo.

“Weird Barbie’s character reinforces: when we select attire that aligns with our essence, it positively influences how we feel and act.”

Considering Weird Barbie brought to mind four other distinctive fashion icons who have similarly shown a commitment to individuality:

  • Iris Apfel: For all of her 102 years, the recently departed Apfel experimented with fashion, challenging traditional notions of age-appropriate dressing. She was known for her eclectic and avant-garde fashion choices which often included oversized jewelry, bold prints, use of vibrant hues, mixing different textures and eccentric combinations of clothing. More was always more with Apfel.

  • The Mad Hatter: A fictional character from Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," a work of classic literature published in 1865, he exists within the surreal and whimsical world of Wonderland. He is known for his erratic and unpredictable behavior, including nonsensical speech, emotional fluctuations, and a preoccupation with time. His appearance features a top hat with a "10/6" label, a colorful bowtie, and a mismatched outfit that includes a jacket with a colorful lining. His eccentric dress form reflects his unconventional personality that is in line with the overall surreal atmosphere of the story. His behavior, speech, and appearance all combine to create a character that defies traditional norms and expectations.

  • Agatha Ruiz de la Prada: A Spanish fashion designer known for her bold, colorful, and whimsical designs (not limited to fashion), her work often features eccentric elements, including vibrant and playful colors, use of unconventional materials and textures (plastic, metallics), oversized hearts, stars, flowers, and other playful motifs. She blends different styles and elements in her designs, creating a fusion of avant-garde, pop art, and surrealism that defies the ordinary.

  • David Bowie: A pioneering musician and cultural icon known for his boundary-pushing music and fashion, Bowie was a fashion chameleon, constantly reinventing his style and experimenting with various looks throughout his career. He was known for his colorful and flamboyant attire, incorporating futuristic and otherworldly elements (especially during his glam rock era), unique hairstyles (like his Ziggy Stardust red mullet) and inspiration from various cultural and artistic movements. He embraced androgynous fashion, blurring traditional gender boundaries in his clothing choices.

These icons, predecessors of Weird Barbie, have been part of fostering a culture of individuality that inspires feeling free to express ourselves genuinely through our own style.
Playground Primaries ensemble inspired by 1960s Roy Lichtenstein comics and Weird Barbie’s creative style. Fashion sketch by Tannya Villalvazo.
People tend to feel more comfortable with what is familiar, but ironically, we are visually drawn to what we consider “strange.” We must understand that we do not need to “make sense” of anyone’s fashion choices, that we are all unique and that through dress, we have a tool to be ourselves. While searching for our style we will face the challenge of accepting ourselves precisely because of the pressures around us, but as Weird Barbie’s character reinforces: when we select an attire that aligns with our essence, it positively influences how we feel and act. Danish existentialist philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, said: “The most common form of despair is not being who you are." [4] Neglecting our style is rejecting selfhood, which we do at our own peril.
Kaleidoscope outfit inspired by the 1960s psychedelic palette of a youth counter culture and Weird Barbie’s creative style. Fashion sketch by Tannya Villalvazo.
Two key concepts within fashion psychology approach the link between clothing and happiness: enclothed cognition and ‘dopamine dressing.’ In 2012, researchers at Northwestern University, cognitive psychologists Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky, determined that the clothes we wear can influence our cognitive processes, emotions, and behavior. This involves the co-occurrence of two independent factors: the symbolic meaning of clothes and the physical experience of wearing them. [5] ‘Dopamine dressing’ is a term coined in the book Dress Your Best for Life by fashion psychologist Dawnn Karen (the “Dress Doctor,” as the New York Times named her). Dopamine dressing is a styling approach and mindfulness practice in which we dress to boost our mood and confidence. While enclothed cognition doesn't directly address dopamine dressing, there are connections between the two. It is personal and subjective, not limited to a specific style or fashion trend. [6] Both concepts highlight the idea that clothing is more than just a functional covering; it plays a role in shaping our cognitive and emotional experiences.

Visual Illusion outfit inspired by and Weird Barbie’s creative style and designed as an homage to op art. Fashion sketch by Tannya Villalvazo.

As the wise Apfel said, “you have to be yourself … If you don’t know yourself, you’ll never have great style…To me, the worst fashion faux pas is to look in the mirror, and not see yourself.” [7] When we see Weird Barbie, her personal image shows us exactly who she is. Her refusal to conform to societal norms and commitment to being authentic through her personal style serve as a powerful symbol of wisdom and an act of bravery. Fashion should serve as the tool that liberates your essence and ignites euphoria and empowerment within you. Like Weird Barbie, we can break free from conformity and choose a wardrobe that advertises who we really are with utter confidence and a boost of happiness. The choice is ours.

Notes: Weird Barbie

[1] Kuo-Ping, Claudia T. The Will to Individuality: Nietzsche’s Self-Interpreting Perspective on Life and Humanity. 2008. Cardiff University, https://orca.cardiff.ac.uk/id/eprint/55762/1/U584287.pdf

[2] Monteiro, Luis. "Iris Apfel Has A Century’s Worth of Advice on How To Define Your Own Style." Vogue, 2021. https://www.vogue.com/sponsored/article/iris-apfel-has-a-centurys-worth-of-advice-on-how-to-define-your-own-style

[3] Buchanan, K. (2023, July 26). How Those ‘Barbie’ Dreamhouses Came to Life: ‘We All Had to Believe in It’. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/26/movies/barbie-movie-set-design.html

[4] Kirsch, Adam. "SøRen Kierkegaard’s Struggle with Himself." The New Yorker, 4 May 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/05/11/soren-kierkegaards-struggle-with-himself

[5] Adam, H., & Galinsky, A.D., “Enclothed cognition,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2012)

[6] Karen, Dawnn. Dress Your Best Life. Penguin Life, 2020

[7] Tashjian, Rachel. "Iris Apfel Shares Her Secret of Style: “Attitude, Attitude, Attitude”." Vanity Fair, 29 Apr. 2015, https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2015/04/iris-apfel-interview

Issue 13 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Politics
Issue 12 ︎︎︎ Border Garments: Fashion, Feminisms, & Disobedience

Issue 11 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Digital Engagement
Issue 10 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Partnership

Issue 9 ︎︎︎ Fall 2021

Issue 8 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Mental Health

Issue 7 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Motherhood

Issue 6 ︎︎︎ Fall 2020

Issue 5 ︎︎︎ The Industry

Issue 4 ︎︎︎ Summer 2017

Issue 3 ︎︎︎ Spring 2017

Issue 2 ︎︎︎ Winter 2016

Issue 1 ︎︎︎ Fall 2016

Issue 13 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Politics

Issue 11 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Digital Engagement

Issue 10 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Partnership

Issue 9 ︎︎︎ Fall 2021

Issue 8 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Mental Health

Issue 7 ︎︎︎ Fashion & Motherhood

Issue 6 ︎︎︎ Fall 2020

Issue 5 ︎︎︎ The Industry

Issue 4 ︎︎︎ Summer 2017

Issue 3 ︎︎︎ Spring 2017

Issue 2 ︎︎︎ Winter 2016

Issue 1 ︎︎︎ Fall 2016