Tag Archives: Betsey Johnson

What I Didn’t Buy: Betsey Johnson Sweater, 1980s

There are several reasons I did not buy this Betsey Johnson sweater.  First of all, my collection stops around 1975, and this sweater dates from sometime in the 1980s.  It has the distinctive “punk” label which was used for about eight years, starting in 1978 when Betsey formed her own business.

More importantly, I did not buy this sweater because I do not like it.  Even if I collected the 80s I would not have bought it.  And that brings up the question of “taste” and where it fits into a collection.

When  I first started collecting I would buy anything I found that I thought was “important.”  I can tell you that for me, collecting that way led to a lot of mistakes.  It was not until I began to narrow the focus of my collection that I was able to chose a garment based on its merits, rather than the label.   And to me, part of the charm of an old garment is that it pleases me, aesthetically.

That is not to say that every item in my collection is beautiful, but given a choice between two similar objects, I know that my personal taste will play a part in which one I choose to add to my collection.  I recently met a seller who had dozens of late 1950s and early 60s casual women’s shirts.  I have been looking for some to pair with my novelty print skirts.  Because the shirts were all deadstock, the condition of all was equal.  I went almost entirely by which ones I liked when picking the ones I wanted to buy.

And this leads me to another thought – the mistaken idea that just because an item is old, it somehow has added worth.  I see a lot of old clothes, and so many of them are just ugly, to my eye anyway.  Others are poorly made, and yet others are in horrible condition.  These things might not matter if the item in question is an 1818 pelisse belonging to Jane Austin, but in a 1978 polyester dress from K-mart, they do definitely matter,

Sometimes I’m just amazed at how much clothing from the past has survived.  I grew up in a home where if an item wasn’t useful, it was sold for charity, so I’m often astounded to read about people who find houses with rooms full of multi-generational clothing.  I’m glad they do because it allows me to be very picky.

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Meeting My First Fashion Love, Betsey Johnson

It’s often said that one should not try to seek out the heroes of her youth, as it usually leads to disappointment and disillusionment.  How many movies have been made about the adult who meets the idol of his youth only to find out he is a drunk and a jerk?  I’m happy to report that is not always the case.

I was taught to sew at a very early age, and by the time I was in high school I was making the majority of my clothes.  The early 1970s were a great time to be a kid who sewed because crafts were in.  Not only that, but Butterick patterns were continuing to expand their Young Designer series of patterns.  And starting in 1971 my favorites were the Betsey Johnson for Alley Cat patterns.

Betsey came to fashion prominence in the mid 1960s as a designer for Paraphernalia, but I was only ten and not exactly into fashion, so I have no memory of that famous boutique and clothing line.  But by  high school I was ready to join the crazy fashion parade of the early 70s.  I would go to the local textile factory outlets and buy the wackiest knits I could find, all destined to be made up Betsey-style.

I had plans to be in Charlotte yesterday due to the Vintage Charlotte market that is held twice a year.  When someone tweeted that Betsey Johnson was to be making an appearance at the Charlotte Belk store the same day I could not believe my luck.  I made plans to attend and to see if I could get in to meet her.

Despite a long line and a long wait, my desire to meet Betsey prevailed.  When she appeared, it was in a rain of rose petals.

Betsey then took a seat and began to meet her fans.  Before long it was my turn.  I’d had the presence of mind to bring along one of my vintage Betsey Johnson patterns for her to sign.

When I handed the pattern to her she said that she had not seen one of those in years.  She showed it around to her “entourage” telling them how she designed sewing patterns in the 70s.  Then she asked me if I was still sewing and we had a nice little conversation about home sewing and how much fun it was.  She said she wished she could get back into it herself.

Even though there was a huge crowd of people wanting to meet Betsey, she took the time to have a real conversation with me.  I’m sure that I’m not the only person who left feeling like this was a woman who genuinely cared about the people who came to see her.   She was open and enthusiastic, exactly the way I’d always known she would be.

 

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Filed under Designers

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.

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Filed under Curiosities, Viewpoint