The Top 10 Beauty Toys Of The '80s

One of which had the least feminist commercial EVER.
Publish date:
September 24, 2013
retro, hair, makeup, nails, lists, toys, Barbie, Jem

I'd love to tell you that I've always known I'd be a beauty editor; that with two parents in the fashion industry and a grandmother who modeled, something along those lines would be an obvious career path; that I played only with toys that had a beauty theme of some sort.

Not so. For a long time, my favorite toys were Battle Armor He-Man and Micro Machines.

Despite my fleeting interest in tiny cars and defending the realm of Eternia, I did spend most of the 1980s playing with toys typically marketed to little girls, some of which you'll find below: the top 10 beauty toys of the decade (in no particular order).


I never had the original Jem doll, but something about Rock 'n Curl Jem's voluminous hair made me NEED her. Maybe it was the way they were shout-singing at me in the commercial.

I clearly remember her glittery tights scraping against my skin and leaving toy-tights burn.


Jem wasn't the first about-a-foot-tall doll to brag about her curly hair. Right at the beginning of the '80s, Magic Curl Barbie was introduced, and you could do way more with her hair than with that double-life-leading charlatan.

You could straighten her hair with a "solution" of mysterious composition! Who knows if it was safe; what matters is that it's appealing to men. See, Barbie was encouraged to straighten her hair by Ken, as you will see in the commercial below. But that's not even the worst part--just wait for the last line.

Yep, you heard that right: "Better fix Ken a sandwich!"


Barbie, of course, wasn't a one-trick beauty pony. (More on ponies later.) You may recall one of several variations of an almost-life-sized bust of Barbie, in which you could do her hair and makeup, either with real(ish) makeup or by using cold water to change the colors on her lips and eyelids.

How's Barbie supposed to make Ken a sandwich if she doesn't have hands? Oh, wait. She does now.


Lil Miss Makeup used similar technology (does cold water really count as technology?) to take her from barefaced to fully made-up, including a face tattoo, which put her over-the-top as a must-have for me.

What I'm assuming is her sister or her cousin or something, Lil Miss Dressup, allowed you to put dots all over her outfit, but the real selling point was that you could change her hair color from blue to pink. JEALOUS?!


If Lil Miss Dressup made you want pastel hair but your mom wouldn't let you dye it because you were five, you could sort of satisfy that craving with Lady Lovely Locks, a pretty doll you're supposed to believe lets colorful rodents just hang out in her hair.

And they can hang out in yours, too!


Not to be confused with Faz, Fazz was my first real taste of makeup. Actually, it was my first taste of solid perfume--I don't think my mom let me have any of the color cosmetics because, you know, CHILDHOOD.

But come on: a banana clip that holds your lip gloss and eyeshadow? Why is there no grown-up 2013 version of this?!


Speaking of confusion, my memory always mixes up Fazz and Sweet Secrets because of the whole suprise-in-a-compact thing. But the surprise in Sweet Secrets isn't cosmetics; it's BODY PARTS.

Once your tiny bejeweled person is constructed, you can put her in a bed that's also a comb, or in a car that's also a brush.

So go ahead, brush your hair with a car--when else is that gonna happen?


Fashion Faces, the hair and makeup spinoff of Fashion Plates, was the only toy that really made me think for a hot minute that I might actually have a career in beauty.

If you're not familiar with the concept, you assemble a face with a hairdo and then do a rubbing, as if you were at Ellis Island, but more meaningful. Then, you can color in the creation with colored pencils or sort-of-makeup.

But let's be honest: the rubbing never came out good.


Another toy that might have given you the impression that you were going to enter the beauty industry--perhaps as a manicurist or sales associate--is the My Little Pony Poof 'n Puff Perfume Palace. Here, you could paint your pony's hooves with nail polish. (I have a theory that little girls who had this toy are now the women who paint their dogs' nails.)

Please enjoy the commercial--and the original My Little Pony bulkiness--in French:


If you weren't getting set up for disillusionment about your career options by these toys, you were being mislead about how hair growth works by Dolly Surprise.

The real surprise comes when, after you cut off your sister's hair, it doesn't magically regrow in 10 seconds.

Would you bump any of these off the list for a different toy? Are you '90s kids scratching your head like, "No wonder 30-somethings are kuh-razy"?