I don't remember the first time I heard Beth Ditto's band, The Gossip, but I remember the first time I felt its life-changing energy. It was the summer of 2003. I was 19 and enjoying my first summer living by myself in Philadelphia — total freedom. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and after my work shift ended, I decided to sit on a bench in Rittenhouse Park and enjoy the weather. A man sat next to me on the bench and started chatting me up. I was having too good a time to assume my regular Get away from me stance. Then, somehow, he brought up my breasts, and suddenly I felt I was drowning in thick syrup that I couldn't make my way out of fast enough. I walked to the First Unitarian Church, where I was to meet my friends to see The Gossip and some other bands play, feeling like garbage. I was heavy with a guilt that was definitely not mine. Why had I let this happen? Then they started playing, and Beth was onstage, singing and dancing, and it was like she was personally pulling me out of the sludge. The more I got lost in the music, the more this man and his actions disappeared. By the end of the night, I was my own self again.
I brought this up to Beth at the end of our conversation, and she immediately remembered the show. "It was the Unitarian Church, right? Thank you for being a badass, and fuck the world, man. I love that you were at that show," she said. And even though everything happened so long ago, I felt loved and supported. We talked about how we might both be too old for basement punk shows these days, but we miss them.
Now, with the launch of her new namesake collection, she is dressing all the coolest fat girls (grrrls?) around the world. The 21-piece collection includes a black liquid-lamé jumpsuit, perfect for dancing into the wee hours of the morning, a dove-gray short-sleeve shift dress with a little mock neck and a ruched butt that is very Indecent Proposal, and some graphic print separates that would seamlessly blend into any wardrobe, all in sizes 14 to 28. As further proof of her fierce independence — and perhaps as a call back to her early days in the punk rock/DIY culture — Beth produced her collection all on her own in Manhattan's Garment District. It's also a sign that this is not just a novelty line like other celeb fashion lines and Beth is in it for the long haul. We talked on the phone on a recent afternoon about fashion's intrinsic link with identity and why she feels like a mom whose kids have flown the coop.
Laia Garcia: Let's take it all the way back: who was the first person whose fashion you wanted to copy?
Beth Ditto: God, I was really little. I was obsessed with Miss Piggy. Obsessed. I just remember putting on gloves. You know those hair baubles that have a ball on each end? I would put those on my finger over the gloves so it looked like I had a ring on like Miss Piggy. I just thought she was so cool.
I remember I was a teenager in the '90s when the '60s were cool. I loved pedal pushers — now they're called capris — but you couldn't buy them anywhere. It was the middle of Arkansas. Me and my mom made a pattern out of a pair of my jeans. We made our own pedal pushers. I would spend so much time ratting my hair to look like Patty Duke or Priscilla Presley, or especially, still to this day, Mary Tyler Moore. It's a classic.