Leading Barbie Land is a big responsibility. And Issa Rae does it with ease.
Women in politics get a lot of flack for their fashion choices. Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits have inspired think pieces. Michelle Obama’s sleeveless silhouettes were heavily scrutinized. Even Kamala Harris’s skinny jeans have been the topic of controversy. All in all, it’s tricky being a stylish woman in the White House. But Issa Rae, who plays President Barbie in the upcoming Barbie movie, has used the film’s viral press tour to craft a new kind of commander-in-chief uniform.
President Barbie has been around since 1992, with Mattel releasing new iterations of the doll over the years. And like everything in the franchise’s plastic universe, it’s a pretty glitzy gig. It’s also decidedly low-stakes, with responsibilities like adding cherries on top of sundaes. (Delicious and important!) For the live-action film, Rae helped envision President Barbie’s costume: a ballgown and a pageant-ready sash that reads “President” in bubble letters. “It was tapping into who six to eight-year-old me thought a female president would look like, and living in that world really informed how I played the president,” she told Teen Vogue.
So it should come as no surprise that to promote the film, Rae and her stylist Wouri Vice have been treating the press tour as a glam-filled campaign trail. She’s been giving presidential waves, donning coordinated sets, and of course, wearing a lot of pink — even though she hates the colour. That’s a sacrifice in the name of public service.
At the film’s world premiere in Los Angeles on July 9, Issa Rae was in true President Barbie form. While gesturing a classic crowd-facing wave on the pink carpet, she wore a custom floor-grazing Marc Bouwer gown with a plunging chest cutout, structured shoulders and a statement bow detail. The bicep-bearing design reportedly took inspiration from Michelle Obama, and the regal velvet fabric further commanded a powerful presence.
A few days later, at the Barbie premiere in London, Issa Rae stepped out in two striking looks. For the screening itself, she wore a hot pink mini dress with a structured bodice and a dramatically ruched leg slit. Later, at the photocall, she emerged in a ’60s-inspired PatBo dress with a multicoloured swirling design and long green feather trim. It’s a retro look that would undoubtedly make Jackie O proud.
Her other London outings emitted reimagined preppy style. On July 12, she wore a high-waisted pink leather miniskirt with a white tank top and matching sunglasses. Later that day, she changed into a midriff-bearing two-piece set with bedazzled buttons by Self-Portrait. She commemorated the leg of the press trip with an Instagram post captioned, “This Barbie is on strike,” a reference to actors joining the ongoing writers’ strike in Hollywood. Amazing styling and a show of solidarity with her constituents? A well-rounded presidential slay. And just one of many.
Last month, while in Australia, she leaned into power suits, with a structured multicoloured blazer dress, a neon slouchy suit, and a bright monochrome ensemble that featured an oversized frilly bow in place of a tie.
For the Barbie celebration party in Sydney, she opted for a Givenchy maxi dress, with a sheer design and a slip underneath. This seamless wardrobe shift encapsulates the essence of the Mattel-made president. After all, when you’re the leader of Barbie Land, your duties are saccharine instead of severe — and the same goes for your outfits.
That’s not to say some of her looks haven’t been more conservative. Kicking off the press tour at a Beverly Hills photocall in June, her monochromatic cream-coloured ensemble — comprising wide-leg pants and a matching top à la quiet luxury — stood out as a relaxed interpretation of the traditional buttoned-up pantsuit. From mini-dresses to sophisticated separates, Issa Rae’s sartorial take on Madam President captures what would happen if leading a country was all about throwing impromptu dance parties and decorating frozen desserts. In other words: No dress code, just vibes.
Sure, it may not all fly in the actual Oval Office. But that’s neither here nor there. This Barbie is a President! And she has our vote.