Kenneth Sean Carson. Better known as Barbie's other half. While you're getting ready to hype up Ryan Gosling's portrayal of the iconic arm candy, get to know Ken beyond his attachment to Barbie. After all, he's his own person and not just Ken.
Ken Carson: The Himbo Arm Candy to Barbie's Everything
In 1961, Kenneth Sean Carson was born. Or rather, he was presented at the American International Toy Fair as Barbie's perfect boyfriend. Named after Kenneth Handler, Barbie creator Ruth Handler's son, he was the male figure that an empowered Barbie got saddled with. But, the biggest joke on the patriarchy ever told was that Ken became a loveable himbo icon who only lived to make Barbie happy. The stereotypical sexist roles were reversed.
In the early days, Ken fit well into the burgeoning Barbie family. His best friend was Allan, and Barbie was the love of his life. Midge Hadley, Allan's girlfriend, rounded out the group. And while Ken had just as many career and fashion changes as Barbie, he could never shed that Barbie boyfriend persona.
Ken Isn't Without His Controversies
Don't let that plastic smile and perfectly coiffed hair fool you. Ken isn't without his controversies.
Breaking Up With Barbie
For decades, Ken was defined by his relationship with Barbie. That is, until 2004 when the two of them announce that they were parting ways. The heartbreak didn't last long though, as Ken made a public declaration in 2006 that he wanted Barbie back. But, it took five years of wining and dining Barbie for her to accept his proposal.
In 1993, Mattel released the Earring Magic Ken doll. He was decked out in a mesh lavender shirt and a light purple vest. But what the toy company never would've guessed was how their accessories sent Ken down a gay-coded spiral.
First was the eponymous earring, only present in his left ear. Naturally, this calls up the rumor mill stereotyping about gay men and single earrings. But the clincher was the completely inexplicable silver necklace. Hanging from the necklace was a sizable round circle and a Barbie keychain attached to it.
Many people thought Ken's necklace looked a little too much like a sex toy that was, at the time, worn around the neck in public as rebellion against homophobic culture. So, Magic Earring Ken has gone down in LGBTQIA+ history as being the gayest Ken doll ever released.
Collectible Ken Dolls to Look For
Ken dolls don't have the same fevered following that Barbie collectors have, but serious doll lovers will do anything to get their hands on one of these good vintage Kens.
|Dress Box Ken
|Totally Hair Ken
- Original Ken - Debuting in 1961, the original Ken doll came with a fuzzy "flocked" haircut and bright red swim shorts.
- Dress Box Ken - Dress Box Ken isn't a specific doll but a series of dolls that were all packaged in the iconic illustration-covered slender 60s Dress Box.
- Totally Hair Ken - In the 90s, Totally Hair Ken was a nice departure from the molded plastic hairstyles we'd had in the past. Instead, he had flowing locks you could comb and style.
How Much Are Vintage Ken Dolls Worth?
Typically, the priciest Ken dolls, accessories, and sets are worth about $200-$300. Some of the valuable characteristics to look for are:
- Boxed Ken dolls from the 1960s - While boxed dolls are always worth more than unboxed ones, the earliest Ken dolls are harder to find, especially with their original boxes. This makes them worth a good bit.
- Travel cases from the 1960s - These mustard travel cases came with compartments for Ken, his clothes, and accessories. They're a must-have for serious collectors.
- Sealed accessories from the 1960s - 1970s - Finding boxed Ken dolls may be hard, but finding unopened accessories is even harder.
As previously mentioned, Ken dolls and accessories from the 1960s are really the best bet if you're looking at making a big profit. While you can find the occasional buyer for a boxed 80s or 90s Ken set, you're much more likely to draw in collectors with pieces from the 60s. For example, this rare store display sailor Ken, with the original dress box, sold for an impressive $350 online.
Usually, you'll find really expensive assorted lots of multiple Barbie dolls (including Ken) and accessories selling for those thousand-dollar price tags. Individually, Ken just doesn't have the same drawing power that Barbie does, and so his value is far lower.
What's Ken Up to Today?
Ken continues to stand faithfully by Barbie's side into 2023. The biggest adventure for the ultimate malewife character is his live action portrayal in Greta Gerwig's upcoming film, Barbie: The Movie. It's the first time we're seeing Ken taken from animation and put into the real world, and it looks like he's packed his suitcase full to help Barbie achieve her goal.
Not only can you watch Ryan Gosling and company bring the many iterations of Ken to life in 2023, but you can also add Mattel's limited edition tie-in film dolls. Within this collection you can find a beach-ready Ken, a denim-on-denim Ken, and a tracksuit Ken each for $50 and under.
He's Just Ken, and We're Just Obsessed
It's all too easy for Mattel to turn Ken with his plastic smile and easy effervescence into a true competitor for Barbie. But long before we took a critical look at gender roles in our children's toys, Ken gracefully took a backseat to Barbie's excellence. In doing so, he became the ultimate boyfriend character for us to play with as kids. We just can't get enough of Ken, even if he's just Ken.