How to Be Iconic: Betsey Johnson Celebrates 50 Years in Fashion

With 50 years in the industry, fashion icon Betsey Johnson celebrated the milestone with an epic tour of decades entitled, The Curious Case of Betsey Button. An over-the-top production, per usual, the show was an archive of re-created vintage looks, like tutu dresses, bold jumpsuits, and floral frocks. Each one colliding with sexy, edgy, and romantic characteristics of the Betsey Johnson style we know and love.

Photo: Yannis Vlamos / Indigitalimages.com

Photo: Yannis Vlamos / Indigitalimages.com

The affair went back in time marking six career defining decades for the designer. Starting with the 2000s (Limelight) were vibrant tutu dresses fit for a prom princess paired with neon tights. Next came a parade of flirty, layered flower looks with clashing patterns for the 90s (Palladium). The 80s (Mud Club) ensembles, the most minimalistic of the collection, consisted of punk pinstripes, fishnets, and shiny, black patent leather pieces. Striped stockings, leopard print ankle booties, and even a rubix cube handbag strutted down the runway for the 70s (Electric Circus). The mod 60s (Max’s Kansas City) looks were my favorite of them all. A standout Mandarin-collar striped pantsuit led the sector followed by slinky shifts and color blocked silhouettes. Most memorable were the ’50s (Ann K. Pimm Presents). There were charming ruffles, sequin stripes, and a circus-meets-pinup vibe – each inspired by her original dance costumes as a child.

In an interview with Daily News she shared, “This is the big bang.” Showing more than 54 outfits to over 1,000 people, and ending with her signature split, of course, no one is ever going to forget this Betsey show.

Photo: Yannis Vlamos / Indigitalimages.com

Photo: Yannis Vlamos / Indigitalimages.com

So what made this show and the woman behind it so iconic? Each show starts with a theme. Recently, while filming a PBS documentary American Masters: The Women’s List, she humbly explained, “I’m too terrified to ever show my clothes straight so I have to come up with a whole little party around them.” Even Johnson’s “parties” have a style of their own with her signature free spirit. It has nothing to do with trends and everything to do with style. In fact, it’s no secret that throughout her design history, Betsey Johnson has legitimately ignored trends, letting her own visions and inspiration guide each collection.

Photo: Yannis Vlamos / Indigitalimages.com

Photo: Yannis Vlamos / Indigitalimages.com

During this dance party through time, no one would have ever guessed that the business hasn’t always been shining and sparkling quite as bright. Back in 2012, after plunging profits and the inability to find a buyer after approaching 22 investors, Betsey Johnson LLC filed for bankruptcy. With more than $4 million in debt, 63 closed stores, and 350 employees fired, Betsey could have easily called it quits, but instead, she reinvented her empire. Oh, and that same year she also underwent a lumpectomy for breast cancer, and didn’t let radiation treatments stop her while continuing to prep for a show – never once letting the diagnosis rain on her pretty, punk-rock parade.

Photo: Yannis Vlamos / Indigitalimages.com

Photo: Yannis Vlamos / Indigitalimages.com

Through the ups and downs, Betsey never disregarded her trademark look. “I stick to my guns, my sheaths and my sexpots,” she said to NY times in 2012. “And I’ve always kept the price of a dress at or below the price of a round-trip weekend in Puerto Rico. That’s been my formula.” 

Photo: Yannis Vlamos / Indigitalimages.com

Photo: Yannis Vlamos / Indigitalimages.com

In the same NY Times piece, Sophia Amoruso of Nasty Gal shares on the fashion icon, “She’s built a huge brand based on youthfulness and rebellion… Her clothes were never too-cool-for-you. They just said that it’s fun to be a girl.” All clothes aside, it doesn’t hurt that Johnson herself is a walking statement of juvenile joy with awe-inspiring stamina.

Betsey Johnson empowers adolescent girls and young women to seek adventure, rock out independence, and kick fears to the curb.

Photo: Yannis Vlamos / Indigitalimages.com

Photo: Yannis Vlamos / Indigitalimages.com

  1. Build from your strengths.
  2. Have a signature style and be instantly recognizable (powerful visual cues are a must).
  3. Don’t stop, ever. Because with tutus, sequins, and a tiara, you can really get through anything.
  4. Tweak the process, never the authenticity.
  5. Dance (literally) to the beat of your own drum.

Shop my favorite Betsey pieces!

Photo By: ImaxTree - Livingly