Remember When Betsey Johnson Was Turned Away From Her Wedding Because of a Pantsuit?

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Betsey Johnson has always been a character. The designer, who celebrates her 76th birthday on August 10th, does cartwheels and splits on the runway, has kept her signature uneven bangs for several decades, and has built her eponymous brand on an aesthetic full of sparkles and wild color combinations. But while the designer rarely has a boring moment, some of the best stories come from the start of her career, when she was fully immersed in the late ’60s subculture scene.

In 1965, after catching attention with her zany creations, Johnson started her design career at Paraphernalia. In addition to starting a maximalist portfolio, the now-icon spent her time at the mod boutique joining the youthquake via Andy Warhol’s in-crowd. This led to design gigs for the pop artist’s muse Edie Sedgwick and a whirlwind romance with John Cale of Velvet Underground.

Johnson met her future husband in 1967 on the set of Ciao! Manhattan, where she was designing costumes for Sedgwick. Subsequent journeys to the Hamptons, where Warhol frequently invited all of the aforementioned as well as the rest of Velvet Underground, turned friendship into love. The two shared in being outcasts amidst the waterside elite, and the designer began making suits for Cale, which she covered in signature ruffles and bows.

Just a year later, Johnson and Cale decided to get married at City Hall in Downtown Manhattan. The fashion-forward bride broke tradition by wearing a bright red pantsuit, which she had designed herself. Unfortunately, this was before the power suit ushered in trousers for women in formal settings, so the justice turned her away, forcing her either to come back in a hastily-planned outfit or delay her wedding.

Love and spontaneity won as Johnson chose the former, but make no mistake: she did not abandon her style principles by coming back in a conservative dress. Later that day, the designer returned in the tiniest miniskirt she could find, making a statement that if she couldn’t wear pants, she refused to cover her legs at all.

Reflecting on this bold move, Johnson has said she probably flashed her elite guests, which included Warhol and Cale’s bandmates. And while pictures only show her wedding day look from the waist up, the colorful story further morphed her into an offbeat feminist icon. The designer has since sent rock-inspired bridal dresses down her runway, but nothing has come close to her scandalous personal story. No wonder she’s remarked that this short-lived ’60s marriage was her favorite.

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