Fashion plates have been around since the 70's, and were catapulted into popularity with their Barbie versions. Each box contained a tray where you kept various flat pieces of plastic with raised designs on them. You fit them together on the screen, put a piece of paper over it, snapped down the top, and rubbed your crayon all over to copy the design on your paper. You wound up with a wonderful and custom coloring page, slightly smeared with excess crayon residue.
Barbie wasn't the only one rockin' the fashion plate world. Boys could get into the Fashion Plates game with the Urkel and New Kids on the Block versions. Since the pieces were essentially the same size, it was possible to mix and match to wind up with Jordan Knight wearing suspenders and a mini skirt with stilettos. Though, as weird as fashion styles were back then it's possible The New Kids were wearing suspenders and stilettos.
This Barbie Fashion Maker set is circa 1980. I managed to snag it at a flea market for $1. The lady seemed very anxious to run off for a cigarette and didn't even realize what the hell I was asking to buy. It applied the same basic principles as the plates, except instead of rubbing crayon over the paper you put carbon paper on the plates, a sheet of paper over that, and cranked it through a machine that pressed it together. The end result was a much cleaner and finer detailed image.
The problem lies in the restocking of the carbon paper. Carbon paper isn't something that can be picked up as easily or cheaply as a new black crayon. Crayons don't provide nearly as clean of a print, but you'll get a lot more drawings for much cheaper. Having to beg your parents to buy refills of carbon paper is a definite disadvantage.
I'm proud to say that Fashion Plates are BACK WITH A VENGANCE! Barbie herself has got at least 3 versions and joining the ranks are great characters like Hello Kitty, Strawberry Shortcake, and even the Disney Princesses.
They're just as smeary and smudgy as ever. You can get the cheaper sets for $6 and they come with just a basic set with crayons. There's more extravagant ones for upwards of $25 that come with many more interchangeable pieces, colored pencils, stampers, and they talk! Fashion Plates have come a long way. No more big hair and leg warmers, but they still have the same crazy blotchy alien eyes. The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Or so I'm told.