love/hate: betsey johnson

so how many of y’all out there are gleeks? i’ll admit to being one – its campy, fun and regularly blasts you with some good old fashioned teen angst, just how i like my tv. i was a total musical theater kid back in high school, so of course i get really into the big show numbers.

during the first season finale last spring, i noticed that the girls of new directions were all rocking a pretty black and gold betsey johnson frock that had walked the runway at the pink fashion event i worked in february.


glee girls in BJ evening gold pleated waist strapless dress

i’ve always been a betsey devotee – my first “nice” dress was a blue betsey sundress my parents bought me in seventh grade (age eleven, yo!) for a friend’s bar mitzvah. the dress made the cover of one of the olsen twins’ straight-to-dvd romps, to my favorite college dive to meeting betsey at age twenty-three, and i still wear it.  i’ve had that blue dress for more than half of my life!

the 1999 olsen twins classic


at the silver dollar, charleston SC, 2008


with betsey, washington DC, 2009


i spent an absurd amount of time hanging around the georgetown boutique last year and here’s the thing: i know that betsey does not produce in sizes above a 12. i’ve only ever seen one size 12 dress in real life – a size 12 is like a betsey johnson unicorn!

i’m a pretty small girl, curvy, granted, but i range anywhere from a 6 to a 10 in betsey, depending on the cut, and i’ve found the strapless dresses especially unforgiving. well, that and not much of a discernable difference between sizes.

considering my long familiarity with betsey, i was surprised to see amber riley in the gold dress, as she’s far more voluptuous than i, and i can barely squeeze a 10 strapless! i assumed that the glee costume department either specially ordered her costume or are geniuses and were able to reconstruct the off the rack dress in some magical way.

the competing team in the same episode also donned betsey, and i can see why the glee costumers choose her dresses for the competitions on the show – they’re whimsical and practically pretty.

this tuesday’s episode featured another big competition for our friends in new directions, and once again, the girls were styled in a precious ombre betsey party dress.


new directions in the evening ombre short dress


this costume choice piqued my interest, as ashley fink was a featured guest star as new directions’ newest member to replace the recently-transferred kurt. again, i wondered about how the glee costumers were able to manage the sizing problem i’ve noticed. there are some noticeable modifications to the off the rack version (below) – replacing the large black bow with a thin crimson ribbon, so its not unreasonable to think that some work was done to the costumes for amber riley and ashley fink.

note that ashley is the only cast member wearing a cardigan –  i figure that either there was a problem reconstructing the original piece or its a remedy to disguise a lack of support in the bosom department.


evening ombre short dress


so, yesterday afternoon @xobetseyjohnson tweeted “Check out the girls of Glee wearing our Evening Ombre Short Dress on last night’s episode!! Don’t they look great?” to which @bellabugaloo replied, asking about the sizing of the dresses.

the @xobetseyjohnson response: “Sizes online for the dress are what is available. xox @bellaboogaloo were they custom made or are you making them in larger sizes now?”


to which i have to say…oh HELL NO YOU DIDN’T BETSEY JOHNSON!



they didn’t even answer bella’s question of whether or not the dresses were made especially for the glee castmembers!

i suspect its because a) the two dresses were in fact custom made and BJ doesn’t want to admit to how limited their sizing is or b) the glee costume department reconstructed the dresses, and BJ doesn’t want to admit how limited their sizing is or c) they want consumers that may be less familiar with the line to think that amber riley and ashley fink fit into a size that is available for purchase on the website to avoid admitting how limited their sizing is.

y’all, i’m in law school, i am surrounded by people fluent in the art of half truths and non-answers, but this one totally blew me away.

now, i’m just one consumer, and i draw these conclusions based on my own experiences and those of my friends, but i firmly believe that betsey johnson cuts their dresses drastically on the small side. i know, the size on the tag doesn’t matter, its how it fits, and while that IS true, their sizing is so small that an average sized girl like me can barely shimmy into a 10! i’ve heard countless laments from my heavier friends about how they wish they could fit into betsey pieces that i wear without even thinking.

but my little black heart breaks when i think of all the disenfranchisement of fashionistas with bigger frames and how betsey johnson won’t even address the issue!

i hate to imagine the anguish of a teenage girl dreaming about a betsey party dress for homecoming, knowing that it won’t fit. especially considering that teen vogue regularly partners with betsey on such confections targeted at their readership!

i’ve noticed two major changes in betsey pieces in my tenure as a dedicated shopper: a decline in quality coupled with an increase in price and the rapidly shrinking sizes. these changes are a disgrace to the legacy that betsey has built over forty years.

betsey johnson is an american icon – hell, her first fit model was edie sedgwick in the days of warhol’s factory. i greatly respect her as both a mogul and a design talent, but i abhor the fact that in 2010, many women and girls are excluded from betseyville due to their size.

furthermore, betsey johnson is a designer born and bred in the good ole USA, yet her garments are manufactured in china. of course i understand that overseas production is cheaper and a lot of designers do it, and its not the outsourcing i take issue with: its the fact that cocktail dresses run between $300 and $500 (you’ll never find a day dress priced below $200) and THEY ARE SHIT!

i know. i just blasphemed. i’m sorry. but i have had zippers malfunction on at least three different dresses. my best friend jordan, who is a seamstress and worked for another high profile american designer in a similar price bracket, has angrily pointed out that said zippers are cheap plastic, hence the breakage. i don’t mind a cheap zipper on recyclable clothing, like something i paid $25 for from forever21, but on a dress i paid nearly $500 for?!

this spring, i was desperate for the guns print cotton dress. salivating, even.

but i have a strict policy when it comes to betsey: i simply won’t pay full price for an item. i either wait for a particular piece to go on sale, or hope its still in stock when betsey offers a promotion.


paramore's hayley williams on stage with weezer


so in april, the time came for a 30% off or some such promotion, and i ran around to every betsey johnson store between atlanta and nashville to get my hands on the guns dress in my size. when i finally tracked it down, i spent around $150 for the privilege of adding it to my betsey collection.


my right to bear arms with david, andy and dan of this providence


i distinctly recall the salesgirl at the shop in perimeter mall enthusiastically remarking “its such a great deal, isn’t it?!” i nodded, not wanting to point out that yes, while the dress had been drastically marked down (a similar style currently retails for $260), i was handing over more than a bill for what is essentially a tshirt.

am i a hypocrite for continuing to purchase clothing from betsey johnson, given my objection to their sizing and quality? i don’t know. but i do know that my cherished guns dress isn’t going to last me the next thirteen years.




6 Responses to “love/hate: betsey johnson”

  1. Ruby Says:

    I completely agree with every single aspect of your rant. I have loved many-a-betsey dress. But through high school and college, there was no way I was gonna make my body jam its way into any of them. Having only recently lost enough weight to fit into ANY of them, I am still constantly perturbed by the seemingly random sizing. I found one beautiful (and strangely enough strapless) dress which I fit into a size 8. But then I tried on a halter A-line dress – my staple style – and couldn’t zip into the mystical unicorn size 12. And yes, while I know style and material and who knows what all shenanigans going on in China make the sizing not exactly consistent, it still makes me so mad that probably more than half her dresses, I just can’t get cause they won’t fit.

    Furthermore, I have never owned anything from Betsey. My size was at first the culprit, but now that it’s not, the price is what is to blame. I thoroughly understand and agree that fine clothing (in both design and construction) has a price tag. I tend to attack sales, but I still respect a tall drink of dress when I see it and will shell out for the right stuff. But that beautiful strapless size 8 I fell in love with? Over $350. I’m sorry Betsey, but I just can’t do it. Even during a promotion, it got cut to $275 or thereabouts. But still, it’s not in my budget. Especially for substandard materials and assembly, oversees at that. And I discussed this with my mother recently. She completely agrees. Nice clothes that you’ll get a lot of wear out of (re: your 13 year old flower dress, Pam) are worth the price. But something that is just for a special occasion – which is honestly where Betsey dresses normally fall for me, cause I fall in love with the dramatic stuff – that you won’t wear a lot and that will still fall apart after those few wearings, you’re better off at F21. Which makes me so sad. I want a Betsey dress that I can fit into AND afford. UGH!

  2. adoreartistry Says:

    the blue dress cost something like $120 at the time. granted, it was 1998 dollars, but still. AND the zipper has never broken, haha.

    i agree – clearly i have no problem paying money for something that’s quality, but wasting money on substandard products peeves me to no end.

  3. Melinda Says:

    You know, I’ve been eyeing this Betsey Bustle Jacket for a while now, looking at it, fawning over it, because I know I can get some good use out of it (especially in my classroom during the American Revolution and such wearing it as a costume). ANYWAY, now I”m going to look over that jacket inside and out, I don’t want to pay THAT much for a jacket AND take it to school and have it crap out on me before a year is even out. Thanks for this, I’m heading over to the store to check it out!

    ❤ Melinda

    • adoreartistry Says:

      i know the jacket you’re talking about – they put it out last year as well, it was really popular.

      glad you enjoyed, just trying to help people make more informed decisions 🙂

    • adoreartistry Says:


      i just looked at your photos – they are beautiful!!!

      also, i wanted to let you know that BJ is having a 30% sale for jackets & coats if you hadn’t picked up the bustle coat already 🙂

      • Melinda Says:

        OMG thank you for that, I just went to BJ today, and I skipped on the Jacket, I know with the way I move my hands around, the lining around the armpit seemed a bit to loose for my tastes, but thanks for the info!

        Also, thanks for looking at my art! I sometimes loose perspective on that I may not like them but other people will! Its always great to hear that! I kinda stopped because I started into makeup LOL, I love creating things though, so this helps alot! ^_^

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