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The Extraordinary Life and Style of Betty White

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The Extraordinary Life and Style of Betty White

“I’m going BIG for my birthday — right to the BIG SCREEN! Get your tickets and join me,” wrote Betty White in her Instagram post, just a month before she was set to turn 100. She was supposed to celebrate it with a special one-night-only film event to be broadcast in select cinemas.

“Betty White: 100 Years Young — A Birthday Celebration” will include behind-the-scenes footage from sets, Betty’s everyday life, her entertainment, and advocacy.

Sadly, Betty White won’t see the broadcast herself. She passed away on December 31st.

Ray Richmond, a television critic, columnist, and reporter with beat experience in the entertainment industry and SoCal, recently authored a biography on the extraordinary life of Betty White.

Her career spanned over nine decades; her performances delighted multiple generations, and Richmond told the story with awestruck detail. LittlePinkTop received an advanced copy of “Betty White: 100 Remarkable Moments in an Extraordinary Life” and found plenty of fascinating facts about the American actress, comedian, and television pioneer.

Betty was performing since she was a kid. She often won the role of a “hard-luck orphan who finds a happy ending thanks to her irrepressible spirit.” As Richmond points out, her child actor radio gigs laid the foundation for one of the longest careers in all of showbiz history. But sometimes, things get worse before they get better, and Betty wasn’t showcasing red carpet looks in the ’40s.

After Pearl Harbor, Betty White joined the American Women’s Voluntary Services. She was a trucker, transporting toothpaste, soap, candy, and whatever the bivouacked troops in California needed. She was often “clad in a garrison cap, military jacket, collared shirt, tie, and a shirt,” according to Richmond’s biography.

When Betty was further pursuing her entertainment career after the war, it was hard for her to land a job. She was consistently told that she wasn’t photogenic enough. There was another obstacle, a catch-22: she needed to join the American Federation of Radio Artists to get those coveted acting jobs.

Fran Van Hartesveldt, an old radio personality who appeared in classics such as “The Roy Rogers Show,” “Father Knows Best,” and “The Great Gildersleeve,” “took pity” on her, in Betty’s own characterization, and offered her a job to say just one word: “Parkay!”

A little confused? Well, it was the name of a margarine brand and a sponsor for that week’s episode of his show “Gildersleeve.” And that one promotional word opened the doors to acting for Betty White.

The gig paid her $37.50, and membership in the performers’ union cost the actress $69. She was actually $31.50 short, but it wouldn’t matter to her soon since her career obviously paid off. And if you think that $69 is nothing because it’s just half a month of Starbucks drinks, you’re forgetting about inflation, silly! The equivalent in purchasing power today would be over $800.

I guess Betty had to work extra hard to make up the difference. In fact, she never stopped working hard. She was known for being reliable, loyal, and consistent. You might have raw talent, but if you are disrespectful and inconsistent, talent doesn’t matter as much, and Betty was always known for her kindness.

That integrity resonated with viewers. Betty was never embarrassed to dress in what Richmond describes as “ridiculous 1950s getups.”

And if Betty White’s comedy has ever made your days at least slightly better, check out her wardrobe and get motivated — it could enhance your style, too.

Here are three inspirational looks that you could incorporate into your own wardrobe, while reflecting on her legacy:

The Biker Chick Look 

In a beach movie parody sketch titled “Beach Blanket Boo-Boo,” Betty wore a black leather jacket with studs and chains. Her leather pants were tied with a Breton scarf instead of a belt. It was probably a continuation of a marine theme because this type of white scarf with narrow horizontal blue stripes is associated with French or Breton sailors. 

If you were to go for a biker chick outfit, that would be an example to follow (paired with a low-cut yellow T-shirt, an orange scarf, and black stiletto boots, just like Betty’s character). 

What boosted the comedic effect was the now funny-looking blonde beehive. No, she wasn’t wearing a beehive on her head to make viewers laugh. The beehive is a hairstyle in which long hair is piled up in a conical shape on the top of the head in a slightly backward-pointing way, giving some resemblance to the shape of a traditional beehive. If you already have a big enough personality, a beehive hairstyle might be overkill!

The Ranger Look

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If you are a tough cookie though, maybe you can show it through your outfits, too. Again, just follow Betty White’s example.

As Ray Richmond points out in his book, it’s no secret that Betty was a “big-time nature gal,” to the extent that her first career dream was to become a forest ranger. Part of the reason it didn’t work out was that it was considered to be a man’s job.

But in 2010, the US Forest Service actually fulfilled her lifelong dream by making her an honorary US forest ranger. During the ceremony at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the nation’s capital, US Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell told Betty: “Judging from your illustrious career, you would have made marvelous contributions to our agency and to the cause of conservation across the United States. Betty, you are a role model for little girls — for all of us — to never give up on our dreams.”

If you don’t know where to start with that ranger look, don’t give up. Start with a broad-brimmed felt hat in a beige color, as Betty did. This type of hat has a high crown, pinched symmetrically at the four corners. (Not your type of hat? That’s OK, LittlePinkTop has already covered the different types of summer hats so you can find an alternative.)

The Special Occasion Look 

Betty White is a good style reference for special occasion outfits, too. She’s been to so many, and hosted a lot of them, too.

Take the Rose Parade, for example. For her first hosting appearance (she went on to have 19 more!) she donned a light green dress and a matching bolero (a women’s short open jacket).

The long dress had a modest split in the front and was ruffled around the bust. If you want your chest to look slightly bigger, ruffles are a good idea because they add volume. 

A good bolero can be an elevating piece of attire, especially if it’s embellished like Betty’s was. It will make even the simplest dress look more elegant and refined.    

Now that you are all inspired by Betty White’s fashion game, we should also remember that determination and strong will are valuable in life, evident from Betty White’s repeated and varied contributions to entertainment. May she rest in peace.

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