Johnson, Betsey

Born a Connecticut WASP, Betsey Johnson made a name for herself in the ’60s designing clear vinyl dresses, silvery motorcycle suits, and other groovy threads for the youthquakers who shopped at Paraphernalia, the trendy New York-based boutique chain.

She opened her own company in 1978, and weathered countless trends by sticking to a distinctive funky, vaguely vintage sensibility, producing lighthearted, inexpensive clothes and reviving her own ’60s and ’70s styles as the looks resurfaced.

Apt to begin her manic runway shows by cartwheeling down the catwalk in a tutu, bright red braids and hair extensions flying, Johnson thrives on spectacle, but take away her models’ nose rings, platform combat boots, and ripped fishnet stockings, and many of her floral-printed baby-dolls and princess-style dresses are sweet enough for a junior high school dance.

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Baby-doll dresses

High-waisted, diaphanous frocks reclaimed from the sex industry in the ’90s as an ambivalent statement by young women about fashion and gender roles.

The origination of the baby-doll look became the subject of an unseemly public dispute between Kat Bjelland of Babes in Toyland and Hole’s Courtney Love, who called her own slut/infant fashion combo “kinderwhore.”

As with so many other examples of thrift-store chic, baby-doll dresses were quickly co-opted by the fashion business, surfacing in Anna Sui and Isaac Mizrahi collections shown in 1993.

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