Betsey Johnson Meets the Spring Maid

A few weeks ago an Instagram friend, Carla, posted a photo of a Betsey Johnson dress that had a very familiar-looking print.  If you look carefully at the print above you’ll see young women, all of whom seem to be having a problem with their skirts flying up.

The print is, in fact, a redoing of the Springmaid girl, a topic I’ve written about quite a few times.  What started out as a risque ad campaign for Springs Mills fabrics and sheets was eventually made into a series of fabrics for the company.  Springs Mills not only decorated their corporate offices with the prints, they also had items made up for sale and they offered the fabrics to clothing manufacturers and home sewers.

So how did Betsey Johnson end up with a print that was designed for a bed sheet maker over sixty years ago?  I can’t possibly know for sure, but I have constructed a possible scenario.

A fabric “designer” is wandering through a flea market in search of inspiration.   The designer spots a sixty-year-old shirt made of the Springmaid fabric.  The designer buys the shirt and returns to her office where the Springmaid girls are cut apart and re-positioned, their clothes given a change of color, and then the new design is put on a black background.  The fabric is printed and someone from Betsey Johnson spots it at a wholesalers.  The fabric just screams “Betsey Johnson,” so it is bought and used to make dresses sometime in the 1990s.

Or I could be completely off base, and the fabric maker contacted Springs Mills and got permission to use their design.

Clothing design has no copyright protection in the US, but textile designs are protected.  Regardless, it is really quite common to see  vintage textiles reproduced in this way.  Tammis Keefe and Vested Gentress are two that I’ve written about in the past.  Like I said, it is possible that the maker of this fabric had permission to use the design.  That has been known to happen as in the case of fabric maker Michael Miller using Tammis Keefe designs.  Actually, Keefe has been dead many years and she left no heirs, but Michael Miller gave complete credit to Keefe, putting her signature on the fabrics.

So, no judgement, just an observation of one more thing that can be confusing, especially to newer buyers of vintage.  Yes, those Springmaid girls do look like they came from 1950, but the colors and label say otherwise.

Many thanks to Carla who graciously let me use her photos.

ADDITION:

It has occurred to me that there is a third possibility – that the fabric was actually made by Springmaid.  The company is still in business, and so it is possible.

AND MORE:

Ballyhoo Vintage has a hat lined in this fabric in the original colorway.

13 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, Viewpoint

13 responses to “Betsey Johnson Meets the Spring Maid

  1. wild and wacky – gotta love her Betsy! the collections (shows) were …wild / wonderful ! the “Church Lady” would have pressed charges!!!! the petticoats and black fishnet stockings with biker boots were tame-log in to the 1980 Spring collection…as a fashion director it was always a treat to go with my young buyers to see Betsy-especially after spending a serious week going to see Bill Blass and Oscar – i loved every minute…there was always a big surprise! love the sheets – wish i had some! Thank You Lizzie as always !

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  2. This is one of those things that really gets my goat! Your imagination sounds right on track in my opinion!

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    • That’s because that is the way it usually happens. The Vested Gentress owners had no idea their horse print had been reproduced, and Tammis Keefe was barely dead before people started ripping off her designs.

      There was a blog, now unfortunately closed, that would find examples of modern textile “designers” who were doing this. It was shocking how many big names in textiles were found merely reproducing old fabrics. With computers it is even easier than it was in the 90s. Just scan the fabric and change the colors to a more modern aesthetic, press print and there you have it.

      Still, I want to keep the other options open. It is possible that this fabric was a Springs Mills product.

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  3. Carrie

    Fascinating…it’s the equivalent of an author making a literary allusion, without quite knowing what they’re alluding to! (It would be very neat if Johnson “quoted” the Springmaid girl image consciously, tickled that it was a kind of precursor to her aesthetic… Hope you’ll find out one day and report back to us :))

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    • That’s an interesting thought! I didn’t ask Carla if there was a selvage anywhere in the dress seams, but seeing as how it is rayon, it is highly unlikely.

      My guess is that the people at Betsey Johnson had no idea of the background of the fabric. I’ll put my best detectives on this one!

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  4. Oh how I loved those Betsey Johnson patterns in the 70s! She really made that thrifting aesthetic mainstream. Don’t you think by the 90s her company was so big that she wasn’t really running the place? Her stores had become a mall chain by then.

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    • Oh, me too! They were great designs.

      An operation as big as Betsey Johnson was in the 90s usually had an entire team of designer assistants. I’m not sure how hands-on she was, but the dress is certainly her aesthetic!

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  5. Lizzie Bramlett, textile detective! In this age of floating images, “borrowing” from the past is very easy to do. At least there is someone who can set the record straight.

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  6. Awhile back, Andy found a set of five 1940s men’s chambray work shirts, in really big sizes. We sold them all–a couple on ebay (one went to a buyer in Los Angeles) and a couple to our Japanese buyer. About four months later, A ran into a young guy here wearing the exact same shirt–label and everything–only not in the XXL size. A asked where he’d gotten it, and the kid said he’d bought it online from a repro vintage company in Los Angeles. We don’t know what he paid for the repro version of the shirt, but it was pretty funny!

    So yes…I wouldn’t be at all surprised that this is something designers were doing on a regular basis.

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  7. I have an original Springmaid girl apron! My mother kept it in the kitchen drawer and when I was little, I remember sneaking in the kitchen to look at the Naughty Apron! Its now hanging in my retro bar along with a few other vintage aprons.

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  8. Pingback: New Twist on an Old Print | The Vintage Traveler

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