Betsey Johnson Outfits the Velvet Underground

Betsey Johnson Outfits the Velvet Underground

In 1966, the Velvet Underground performed at Paraphernalia, a hip boutique that sold clothes designed by a young Betsey Johnson, and featured a chrome and glass design with go-go dancers in the windows who grooved to the rock ’n’ roll that blared over the shop’s loudspeakers. “I was the street kid at Paraphernalia,” Johnson recalled. “I liked making affordable clothes.” She designed simple miniskirts and T‑shirts, often in primary colors, and used vinyl whenever possible. “You’d spray with Windex rather than dry-clean,” Johnson said. “We were into plastic flash synthetics. It was ‘Hey, your dress looks like my shower curtain!’ The newer it was, the weirder—the better.” After Johnson met Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol, who needed silver outfits for a film they were shooting, she began designing clothes for the Velvet Underground. Johnson instantly fell in love with John Cale when he asked her to make a costume he could wear while playing viola with his hands on fire. They became the first Factory couple to tie the knot, and for their City Hall wedding Johnson made a burgundy velveteen pantsuit for herself and designed Cale’s black sailcloth canvas suit. Unfortunately, New York City officials informed her that a woman could not be legally married in pants, so she returned in the tiniest of red miniskirts and completed the ceremony.

From Chapter 11 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


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