When America Was Besotted With the Bedazzler

college.library via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
college.library via Flickr // CC BY 2.0 / college.library via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Fashion has taken some strange turns in American culture, from parachute pants to the unique appeal of Members Only jackets. These sartorial successes were largely the result of people who wanted to express conformity by wearing what was trendy and popular at the time. But one device promised a kind of apparel autonomy—the ability to add an accent and flourish to practically any article of clothing in one’s closet.

The Bedazzler.

For those who have never Bedazzled, the Bedazzler exists at a peculiar intersection between home appliance and arts and crafts tool. Placing a piece of clothing between its Tiffany wheel and the plunger and then pressing down results in a stud or rhinestone being applied to the fabric. Given enough studs, one could convert a simple T-shirt or jacket into an explosion of glitter. Crafters looking to tailor their wardrobe could apply as much or as little of the garment garnish as they wanted.

The origins of the Bedazzler—and therefore knowing where to assign credit for its unique existence as a clothing modifier—are somewhat murky. It may come as little surprise that a key figure in the device’s development was Ron Popeil, head of Ronco and the famous figurehead of infomercial advertising who is perhaps best known for the Veg-O-Matic, the Pocket Fisherman, and his chicken rotisserie.

In the 1970s, Popeil went into business with Herman Brickman, who had assisted in designing Ronco’s Bottle and Jar Cutter and helped develop a rhinestone setter. It was dubbed, perhaps in haste, the Ronco Rhinestone and Stud Setter.

In ad spots, Popeil vowed that the Stud Setter (priced at $9.98) would “make an $8 pair of jeans worth up to $50!”

While successful, it was no chicken cooker, and Popeil apparently became consumed with other ventures because he failed to gain control of the manufacturing rights to the device. That left Brickman able to pursue the tool on his own, this time under a far catchier name—the Bedazzler.

The Bedazzler’s success may have come from its versatility in the eyes of consumers. Brickman marketed it as an arts and crafts item for people looking to accentuate their clothing, but the Bedazzler also resembled a toy—something that appealed to kids looking to begin fashion exploration even if they weren’t quite old enough to use a sewing machine.

By the end of the 1980s, the Bedazzler joined an assortment of kid crafting items like the self-explanatory Pottery Wheel and Puffy Pens, which took on a 3-D image once ironed.

The Bedazzler achieved some permanence in the 1990s, when rhinestone-peppered apparel was worn by the likes of Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, and the machine itself was once gifted by Rosie O’Donnell during the launch party for her magazine, Rosie.

The Bedazzler is still being sold today, though there’s no shortage of clothing that comes pre-dazzled. Perhaps the ability to design one’s own flair remains a strong selling point. If you want something Bedazzled correctly, sometimes you just have to do it yourself.