Monday, June 1, 2015

Rockabilly, Swing, and the Va-Va-Voom Top

When I put this outfit together, I thought that it was 50s inspired but, as I rifled through online images, I realized that it's more inspired by modern rockabilly, pinup, and swing interpretations of the period than by the actual period itself.

My rockabilly ex-boyfriend.

Looking for rockabilly images for this post was bittersweet for me. In my twenties, I was passionately, tragically, and unwisely in love with a much older, gifted rockabilly musician. We broke up around my thirtieth birthday and mostly lost touch. About ten years later, he called me to tell me had terminal cancer. The heartbreak of this horrible reality threw us back together for a brief and tumultuous period, one that I now see as our chance to say goodbye to each other.

When he learned that he was dying, he had a few wishes. One was to live long enough to see his three children, who lived with him, finish high school. The other was to immerse himself in his music as much as possible. He achieved both goals and died in the fall of 2013. He was 57.

Our brief reunion made me sure that he and I were not meant for each other, and helped pave the way for the much healthier love that Beau and I share. Still, wearing rockabilly clothing, looking at rockabilly photos and, even more, listening to the music, can be bittersweet for me.

I won't dwell on those emotions in this post. Instead, I'll focus on the fun of the look. But I couldn't really write this post without mentioning my roller coaster affair with a rockabilly man.

As I already mentioned, my outfit was, in fact, more inspired by modern interpretations of rockabilly and swing than by the clothes actually worn in the period. This is one of the only vintage photos I could find that looked a lot like what I was wearing, and it was actually taken in the late 40s.  

The modern look is a fun, often exaggerated combination of swing, rockabilly, pinup, and teen fashions from the 40s and 50s, and even a little from the late 1930s ...

... and maybe a bit from the movie Grease too, which was itself a gentle satire on 50s teen preoccupations and entertainment.

Headband: Stylized; Shirt: Mod Cloth; Shoes: Ecco; Belt: boutique; Sunglasses: Aldo; Skirt, earrings, and bangle: vintage

Many of those who wear this look today have a fairly advanced sense of camp and kitsch. Beau and I have had a blast bringing our kitchen back to its mid-century modern, kitsch glory, ceramic fruit, bright colours, and all.

This modern exaggeration is a loving caricature of the originals. For me, it feels like making oneself a fun cartoon character, mixing and matching some of the most playful and over-the-top aspects of about 20 years of retro fashion.

Do note that these women are mixing 40s style shoes and hair with 50s style crinolines and nipped waists. By the time prototypes of dresses like these began to hit the runways with Dior's New Look in 1947, these hairstyles were no longer popular, and the shoes were on their way out. Then there are the tattoos which were decidedly not popular in the 40s and 50s.

No matter whatsoever. Modern rockabilly style, though heavily influenced by vintage style, has become its very own, contemporary look, so "getting it right" does not mean being 100% faithful to the fashions of the past.

One of the reasons so many women have embraced this look is because it embraces them. It looks amazing on curves. In my humble opinion, it looks better on curves than on thin women. The rockabilly and pin-up scenes seem to me to have readily welcomed curvy women as beautiful and sexy. That's a nice feeling for a change, eh?

My own outfit started with this shirt from Mod Cloth. Customer reviews of the shirt repeatedly stated that women with ample chests would find this shirt most flattering, and somewhat revealing. I thought, "What the heck? If disability caused me to gain weight and gain a chest, I'm going to have some fun with it." So I ordered the shirt and did just that. 

This neckline (for which a quick Google search reveals several different names) -- on shirts, and dresses -- is often associated with the 1950s.

But, in fact, it was more popular in the 1940s, as evidenced by three of these very stylish women. (And please do note the dress clips on the woman on the right. This style is perfect with dress clips. I've already ordered a vintage celluloid pair to go with my own top.)

When worn with the intent of being sexy, it did the job extremely well, showing off curves in the most va-va-voom of ways.

In fact, I have dubbed this shirt my Va-Va-Voom Top. It's a look designed to captivate the (heterosexual) male gaze.

And it does just that.

Beau certainly liked it -- a lot -- as did a 14 year old boy we passed on the street. The boy stared at me up and down so obviously that Beau and I burst into laughter after he had passed. I'm 44 for criminy's sake! But, as Beau said, "Great boobs are great boobs."

As a queer person, I'm not one of those idiotic women who claim not to see the aesthetic and sexual appeal of bosoms. Are they blind? I totally get it. Breasts are lovely. Nothing wrong with that.

Beau was tired when I wore this outfit so he didn't want to take photos for the blog. I had given up on asking him and sank down to rest on my knees in a common position for me, one that takes some pressure off my always aching back. Beau looked over, said, "Don't move," and grabbed the camera. He'd decided the looked needed to be remembered after all. I have no idea why! Tee hee.

From the wonderful style blog: Closet Confessions

The va-va-voom top pairs beautifully with a full skirt (and a tight, pencil skirt, but I'm not quite that bold), especially on a full-figured woman.

Full skirts added extra fun to all the exuberant, youthful dancing that went with the swing and rockabilly scenes.

Such fun those dancers had! (I've always loved this photo and been intrigued by this couple, dancing together so beautifully when inter-racial couples were still the object of many racists' wrath.)

I too used to love to dance too and still would if I could, but disability has taken that away from me forever. But I can still have fun with the look, the kitsch, and the camp.

I'll never dance like this again, but I can enjoy the fashions.

And let us not forget that not everyone who wore the fashions was a good dancer. The styles eventually made it into shy, suburban teenagers' closets. They were not all, I think, the best of dancers. One wonders if these unfortunate souls are having any fun whatsoever.

It must be this style's association with teenagers that makes people want to pose wearing it in ice-cream parlours and hamburger joints ...

... just like Sandy and Danny in Grease.

Just like me! Only, in my case, it's a veggie burger and fries. I haven't eaten red meat since I was twelve, and I haven't eaten poultry since I was seventeen. I don't preach about it. It's just a personal choice I made for global environmental and economic reasons. If you want me to tell you more about it, let me know.

On the topic of food, this look is also often associated with the mythical happy housewife of the 1950s.

I'm sure some housewives were happy in the 50s but many were not.

This needn't stop people from having fun with the archetype. Our kitchen is wonderfully cheerful and playful, though my step-sons are still not totally converted to the joys of a camp kitchen. It's an acquired taste.

Beau's favourite part of our campy kitchen is this cupboard designed especially for canned goods. Though our landlords "thoughtfully" repainted the entire house in exciting shades of off-white, here and there we can spot its original colours, like that turquoise they left in the cupboards' interiors. Isn't it fun?

Maybe I can no longer have this kind of fun.

But I can have this kind of fun.

And that's a whole lot better than no fun at all.

See you later, daddy-oh.

(I'm sharing this over at the Style Crone's Hat Attack, and with Not Dead Yet on Visible Mondays.)


  1. Loved this post. So much fun and with great photos to accompany your exquisite writing. Thank you so much for sharing your headscarf with Hat Attack!

    1. Thanks, Ms. Style Crone. I had great fun writing and taking the photos for it.

  2. So fun! Especially love the photos of the dimples and of the soup :)

  3. Wonderful photos and narrative of the rockabilly years, Charlotte! You look saucy and interpret the look beautifully. Thanks for sharing with Visible Monday, xo.

  4. Loved this post Charlotte. Xo from a brazilian woman in love by vintage and retro.

  5. Love your kitchen !!