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The History of Budget Fashion: Halston for JCPenney

Before Jaclyn Smith brought fashion to the style starved aisles of K-Mart, before Isaac Mizrahi helped change Target to Target (pronounced with a French Accent), the king of disco era fashion, Roy Halston, debuted a line at the venerable department store JCPenney.

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The Halston III line for JCPenney debuted in stores in 1983, and with it the first truly masstige fashion line, a mass market fashion line developed/licensed by a high-end designer or brand, was born.

Halston III for JCPenney commercial circa 1983/1984

The line was a big hit, which promptly “downgraded” the Halston brand in the eyes of elite New York stores like Bergdorf Goodman, who, along with others higher end department stores, stopped selling the higher priced Halston lines. The Halston brand became a household name, but lost its prestige (this was before internet stores like Bluefly and even outlet malls, both of which made designer brands more accessible to the masses).

Ahead of his time

Unfortunately for Halston, he was 30 years too early. In a fashionable twist of irony, almost 30 years to the date that Halston launched his line for JCPenney, Isaac Mizrahi launched his eponymous line with Target. Interestingly, Mizrahi’s line with Target was far more successful that the designer’s higher priced lines at stores like Barneys.

Models Designer

A generation later, the fall out from the Halston III at JcPenney line continues to have a negative impact on licensing decisions by designers. At a New York Times Talk in 2009, uber designer Marc Jacobs discussed the impact that Halston’s line at JC Penney has had on his licensing decisions:

“When I got into this business, licensing was a big thing. I don’t think that it’s about that anymore. One doesn’t have to sign themselves up for this lifestyle their mugs in their kitchen will reflect. I remember when Halston did that thing with JCPenney, it was very bad for his couture business.” (source: Joelle Lifestyle)

While Jacobs may continue to resist the urge to create a masstige line, other designers, most notably Karl Lagerfeld, have embraced the concept (and the cash that comes with it). For up and coming designers like Proenza Schouler and Zac Posen, both of whom had a collection with Target, a masstige line is a way to expand brand awareness, while also creating an entry point for your higher priced brands.

Collage of Halston-desgined evening gowns.


Roy Halston died in 1990, but the Halston brand carried on. In 2007, Harvey Weinstein’s company along with Hilco Consumer Capital LLC purchased the brand. It struggled for a few years under that ownership team.

In 2010, Sarah Jessica Parker got involved in a design role. SJP didn’t last long, however — she walked away less than two years after taking the job. Weinstein had also severed ties at that point. Parker didn’t address why she left publicly until years later. And then, she only implied that the brand was so broken she couldn’t fix it.

Woman wearing white satin jumpsuit by Halston.
What the Halston line looks like in 2021.

You can still buy Halston pieces today. The line-up in 2021 still has that classic feel to it. Think wide-legged pants, jumpsuits, drape details, crepe, and silk.

You can also get the juicy — and fictionalized — scoop on Roy Halston’s wild lifestyle in a Netflix series titled Halston.

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