Designer Spotlight: Johnny Was

There is something about Johnny Was clothing. Colorful embroidery that blends bohemian with Aztec prints. Flowy dresses in intricate patterns with surprising touches of detail. Colorful bags that feel one-of-a-kind. Whenever I put on something from this collection, I know I’ll get compliments.


A blue Johnny Was dress

The Story

Johnny Was began in 1987 when wholesale manufacturer Eli Levite launched his own clothing line, drawing on his bohemian California lifestyle. The company’s aesthetic can be described as: “a visual juxtaposition between vintage and modern, reserved and unrestrained, traditional and innovative. Inspired by world cultures, the arts, and historical dressmaker techniques, the Johnny Was brand transcends fashion trends with its beautifully crafted clothing and one-of-a-kind accessories.”

Levite lived on the beach at the time. The Bob Marley song Johnny Was played on repeat. As he looked to name the brand, he felt this name and universal appeal of the song embodied the universal, yet relaxed and bohemian aesthetic he wanted to convey.



The Johnny Was Collection

Johnny Was is a full lifestyle brand. Clothing, spanning regular and plus sizes, makes up the majority of the line. It also includes jewelry, bags, shoes, wraps, scarves, and most recently, swimwear.

I find Johnny Was dresses to be great investment pieces. The relaxed styling combines elegant fabrics and embroidery to generate pieces that can be paired with flip flips for the beach or dressed up for fancy occasions. For the most part, the dresses run big. I generally wear a Large in other brands and am mostly able to purchase a Medium in Johnny Was—always a bonus! That said, I found a few slimmer cut pieces where a Large was more comfortable when shopping in person at the store this summer..



The tops are perfect for the same reason. You can wear them under a jacket to work or pair them solo with distressed jeans for a trendier look.

I’m dying for one of the embroidered cardigans that I envision wearing for years. The bags are also eye-catching, well designed statement pieces.


Johnny Was Jewel Embroidered Linen Tote Bag
Johnny Was embroidered linen tote bag

Where to Find It

I first discovered the collection when I fell in love with a dress at La Petite Boutique in Richmond’s North Side. The nearest dedicated Johnny Was boutique is in Tyson’s Galleria in Northern Virginia. I mostly shop the brand’s website, although it is also carried at Neiman Marcus and other major retailers.

How to Save on Johnny Was

Johnny Was pieces can be pricey. Fine fabrics and embroidery don’t come cheap. However, there are also great opportunities to find them on sale.



Sign up for emails to know when new markdowns are added at and also when the company offers 30 or 40 percent off sale items. This is the best time to buy, but the pieces are also final sale. You can also sometimes find Johnny Was pieces on, Nordstrom Rack or Neiman Marcus Last Call. If you’re interested, you also might want to sign up for Johnny Was sale alerts on



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