Back to the future: Retro fashion in the Jewel

La Jolla’s gone retro.

If your tastes are vintage or edgy, if tattoos and pinups are for you, there’s now a new women’s boutique in the Village to meet your needs: Shades of Bettie.

Ashley Smithey recently opened her classic attire store at 1295 Prospect St., #108, just around the corner from Bull & Bear Bar & Grill.

The shop is not only named for Bettie Page, the fabled “Queen of Pin-ups” in the ‘40s and ‘50s who was one of the first women to grace the cover of Playboy Magazine, it’s also a shrine to the fashion icon she became.

The inspiration for “Bettiemania,” Page’s naughty and nice, saucy style, continues to be copied by fashion designers who’ve discovered that nostalgia never fades away; it merely gets reinvented.

Smithey is a convert to the cause of Bettiemania. She’s not a dabbler. She really dresses the part.

“This is the stuff I like, and I can’t buy it here, which is the whole point of my opening this store,” said the cardigan-sweater clad, red ruby-lipped Smithey, a walking poster board for nostalgic dress.

Smithey talked about the charm and growing appeal of Bettiemania. “It’s definitely from another era,” she said, “sort of chic, sort of Hollywood. It’s kind of a classic-yet-edgy style. The new things that keep coming out just always tend to go back to the past.”

Bettiemania is catching on. Jianna King of Carmel Valley, a client of Smithey’s, has gotten the fever.

“Shades of Bettie is definitely one of a kind,” said King. “The store has just as much style and personality as Ashley does. I recently bought a ‘40s-style dress from her, and I have never had so many compliments before. Ashley’s style can really work well with so many women. I really want people to hear about the store, there is so much potential there.”

Dressing “old” is something new, something distinctive, noted Smithey. “A lot of these things just make you stand out in a crowd,” she said. “All the women I’ve gotten in here from the area so far really love that: standing out.”

Bettiemania has an allure for women of all backgrounds and ages. Smithey’s had teenage girls in her shop looking for something to wear to their high school homecoming. “I also got a 65-year-old lady who bought that turquoise dress over there to go dancing,” she said.

Retro clothing is very versatile. Said Smithey: “A lot of these things you can wear down or wear up, depending on what you want to wear with it.”

Shades of Bettie’s palette is mostly shades of black, white and red, the colors of Smithey’s polka-dot-covered business card. Her boutique carries lots of accessories, like purses with very intense leopard prints. Purse sizes range from hardly bigger than coin purses to huge overnight bags that can double as travel bags. They even have locks on them.

With retro, it’s all about image. “It’s kind of punk rock, rockabilly, a little mixture of hat,” said Smithey.

Don’t forget about tattoos. Shades of Bettie hasn’t. The store even carries clothing with faux tattoo sleeves so someone can look the part without actually having to become it.

Like retro clothing, tattoo body art is becoming more mainstream. “The percentage of people in San Diego with tattoos is a lot larger than other cities,” said Smithey. “If people are under 30, chances are they have one.” Why have tattoos become so popular? “Art and self-expression,” answered Smithey. “It’s addicting. You get one . . . and you just keep on going. Everyone I’ve talked to, as soon as they get one they want the next, and the next. It’s just a big trend right now.”

Another nice thing about the Bettie Page look, is that you don’t have to have a model’s figure to wear it. “All the different things, they all stretch very well to fit your body,” said Smithey. “You can’t be a stick figure to wear them. You have to have curves.”

A lot of the very feminine, frilly-but-edgy styles in Shades of Bettie drape rather than cling. Prices on nostalgic dresses range between $60 and $200 depending on the brand and style.

Purses cost between $25 and $150.

Best of all, said Smithey, dressing retro is fun. “You can wear it for a day, or for Halloween,” she quipped.

Smithey, who’s working on a master’s degree, said owning her own store is the attainment of a dream. “I’ve always wanted to own my own business,” she said. “It just hit me one day that, I was just sick of ordering everything online. I’m pretty sure there are other people out there who have the same problem. I love the style.”

Smithey’s focused right now on getting firmly established. In the future, she’d like to expand her shop to include clothing for men, maybe even a baby section.

In a past life, Smithey’s retail space was an exotic car rental. Perhaps it’s apropros that, in its most recent reincarnation, the space once again pays homage to the timeless past.

Shades of Bettie is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Wednesday. For more information call (619) 850-4491 or visit