Betsey Johnson: The Original Rebel

Recently designer Betsey Johnson was awarded the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award by the CFDA. Looking back, Betsey Johnson has accomplished many achievements. Her career has gone through an evolution. She has been in the industry for over forty years. In the 1970’s, she had a whimsical, hippie-inspired style. The clothes had bright colors, outlandish patterns, and sexy fit. This style continued for sometime, but towards the end of the era, she added a punk rock feeling. She brought this trend to a wider audience. In 2012, disaster struck for her fans and teenagers (including myself). Her company was forced to shut down, but she has managed to stay relevant and to reinvent her company.

Betsey Johnson maintained to keep her own identity while adapting to the new trends in each era. She is the self-described wild child and rebel. Her designs differed than those of other companies popular at the time. When I met her not long ago, I could see how her designs reflect her personality. I wore a cut skull skirt which she absolutely loved and she talked about her process. While she is charismatic and energized, she is also fun, funky, and unique just like her clothes. Her love for fashion and clothes shines through her personality. She loves to look at her designs on her fans.

The Evolution of Betsey Johnson

1960s: A Group of Crazies

Betsey Johnson wanted clothes that differed from older generation. She wanted scandalous skirts, sliver, and Warhol flowers.

Twiggy modeling Betsey Johnson


Edie Sedgwick in Betsey Johnson

1970’s: Doris Day sleeping with Todd Rundgren

During this era, Betsey Johnson’s style represented years growing up at home. It was "cozy by the fireplace". 
Later her her designs represent the uprising of punk rock culture. She has said, “I was happy to get out of the flower garden and into the gutter.” The clothes had a new spirit. It was her preferred designs, but now it had safety pins.


1980’s:  The Age of Neon Colors

Betsey Johnson collection started to change during this time. It took more feminine approach with floral fabric designs.

1990’s: Grunge and Urban Era

The 90’s fashion differentiated from the previous era. While 80’s fashion focused on neon colors and a sense of creativity, the 90’s had creativity with a different meaning. Betsey embraced the grunge look with baby doll dresses. She infused urban fashion into her collection. While the designs differed, she managed to stay with her style using her usual patterns of floral and polka dots.

Isabella Rossellini Models for Betsey Johnson, 1995


2000’s/2010’s:  Back to the Original Form

With 90’s fashion has become fad, there is room for innovation. Betsey Johnson goes back to the style/designs she loves. In 2000 the style of the 80’s becomes popular again. She goes back to the 1980’s designs and revampes it to fit in for a younger audience. Teenagers know Betsey Johnson for her cute, funky, and unique prom dresses.


Text by Suzanna Lee