Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Living The Vintage Life: Embracing the Community

The vintage lifestyle tends to span from the 1930s to the 1950s. It reflects an era of great innovations, the second World War, the rise of mid-century modernism, self-reliance, the birth of rock n’ roll, and more!

Newcomers to the scene often are surprised to find how accepting people in the local community are. Size, race, sex - it doesn’t matter, almost everyone is welcome. I say almost because there are a few faux pas such as: wearing any Nazi emblems, calling the lifestyle a “fad”, or being a total downer all the time. A big part of the vintage lifestyle is happiness, believe it or not. It took me a while to figure out that everyone’s unanimous goal was “to find happiness” and to realize that other people in the community are often willing to help each other.

How great is that?!

Now the question is: What makes you happy? Don’t worry. It constantly changes and there is never a simple answer. You have to feel good about yourself to be happy, so that could be physically, mentally, spiritually, etc. Perhaps you seek a husband/wife, a good education, being trained as a tradesman, writing a book, learning the piano, restoring a car, or something else; it all leads to the final goal of happiness. Some might call this “the American Dream”. Whatever your preferred term is, just remember that it always takes time and effort to get there.

Before we really get into things, there is one big hypocritical topic I want to address: technology. For many, there is a particular desire to break away from a lot of technology, but at the same time retain some of it. It’s hard to get through the modern world without a computer or a mobile phone. There are a lot of vintage bloggers, vloggers, and other internet personalities for the community and they could not do that without tech, but you’ll also find people who reject almost all tech. It’s a weird grey area within the community. Perhaps you have a “Kitchen of The Future” (totally a thing from the 1950s) that incorporates tech, maybe you have a strong desire to use your grandma’s old washer from the 1950s and simply say “fuck it” to the modern world. A lot of folks in the community try to minimize their tech.

The community is pretty much based around the working class aka middle class. The majority of the people work hard and to have working dreams. Working dreams (I’m not sure what else to call it) are dreams of what you really want to do for work. For many, it’s owning their own business. For some it’s selling a novel or something akin to that. Did you know that there are realtors that specialize in mid-century modern homes? Did you know that there are appliance stores that only sell retro-looking appliances? You can take almost anything and put a retro spin on it, if it makes you happier and is worth your time.


Community Terms

Before we get fully started, let's go over some basic terms that you will encounter in the scene. These are in no particular order.

  • Rockabilly - General term for the community.
  • Pin-Up - A general term for females in the community.
  • Beefcake - A general term for males in the community.
  • Psychobilly - A more punk version of rockabilly. Usually there are modern cuts, vivid colors, studs, and a mix of underground punk clothing.
  • Gothabilly - A goth version of rockabilly. Usually this encompasses vintage horror and sci-fi themes, perhaps a little psychobilly inspiration, and definitely the addition of more black and grey.
  • Swing - In reference to swing dancing. Popular types of swing dances are: west coast, east coast, lindy hop, balboa, charleston, collegiate shag, boogie-woogie, jive, and the big apple.
  • Tattoos/Tats - Tattoos are a popular thing in the community, but you don’t have to have them.
  • Vintage Clothing - Clothing that is actually from a particular time period. To be “vintage” it has to be at least 25 years old.
  • Vintage-Appropriate Clothing - Modern clothing that can easily be worn to look vintage. Cardigans and modern pencil skirts are classic examples.
  • Reproduction Clothing - This is modern clothing made to look vintage. You can find shoes, clothing, undergarments, military reproduction, and outerwear.
  • Greaser - Associated with the look of a guy with greased-hair (perhaps worn in a DA or a pompadour) and the chicks in poodle skirts.
  • Pachuca/o - You might recognize this term from the song “Hey Pachuco” by Royal Crown Revue. It refers to the zoot-suiters from the 30s and 40s, who were predominately Hispanic.
  • Zoot-Suit - The zoot-suit features pants with a high waist and wide legs with pegged cuffs. The suit jacket is often long with wide lapels and padded shoulders. It’s usually worn with a fedora and stylish dress shoes. During WWII in LA, the zoot-suit riots broke out between service men and local pachucos. Their zoot-suits were seen as damaging the war effort by wasting fabric.
  • Zazou - A French 1930s and 1940s look that utilized oversize jackets, wide leg pants, flamboyant colors, short skirts for women, and often is associated with carrying an umbrella. It was a rebellious effort that the Nazis did not approve of. In Poland, a similar effort was made and was called Grebes or Potapky.
  • Teddy Boy/Girl - This British look is essentially 1950s Brits doing Edwardian. There are similar stylings to zoot-suits, the introduction of creepers, drape jackets, drain-pipe trousers with exposed socks, waistcoats, and slim or bolo ties.
  • Beatnik - Beatniks are post-war, starting around 1948. Typical looks are black, stripes, a splash of artful color, berets, horn-rimmed glasses, goatees on men, and loose or relaxed hair (in opposition to the highly stylized 40s and 50s updos). Beatniks were greatly inspired by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, jazz, blues, drug culture, cafe culture, poetry slams, and exploring taboo areas.
  • Burlesque - Burlesque is the performance art that focuses on “the big reveal” usually with comedic overtones. Breasts may be exposed, but never the other genitalia.
  • Vaudeville - A vaudeville show is a mix of one act plays, music, magic, circus acts, drag, dancing, comedians, and other performers. Usually vaudeville shows are kept light-hearted. They are meant to entertain the whole family.

Getting Into It


You’re interested in being part of the community, but aren’t quite sure how. Use social media and look for local communities in your area. If you can’t find anything create something be it a sub-reddit or a facebook group or a craigslist ad. Try your best to connect with people. The best way to actually meet others is to invite them out somewhere. I usually suggest coffee.

When you start looking for clothing, keep it simple. An easy outfit is a pair of relaxed straight leg jeans, a pair of converse (or combat boots), a rockabilly t-shirt, and your hair up in a bandana. You can find this look all over pinterest. It’s easy, it’s retro, and it’s comfortable. Once you have this look nailed, you can try some other looks. Search for rockabilly stores online. You’ll find most of them in the USA, UK, Germany, and Australia. Don’t be afraid to go to thrift stores or to regular stores. You might find some vintage-appropriate clothing, especially with “80s does 40s” styles (resurgence of women in the workplace) and “90s does 50s” styles (inspired by films like Swingers).

Hair scares people at first. The best advice I can give you is to practice a particular style while you’re at home. Just play around with your hair while you’re watching tv or something. Guys might have to grow out their hair and have it cut properly in order to get a particular look. Women, those rolls and waves are hard at first, but you will be able to cut your time down with practice! I used to wear big victory rolls as my go-to hairstyle and I spent about 5-10 minutes on my hair. There are how-to books for men and women, as well as youtube videos. Ladies, I recommend a basic barrel roll with your hair up in a bandana, if you’re having major hair issues.

Once you get yourself looking good, go out somewhere. It might be a trip to the bank and the grocery store, maybe you’re going out to a sporting event, or maybe it’s a trip to the bookstore. It’s important to be comfortable with how you are, so give it a try.

This is, obviously, a very basic “get started”. By the time you’re done with this book, you will have a better idea of how to become part of the community and embrace the lifestyle.


Common Misconceptions

Let’s expunge some of the misconceptions of the rockabilly culture. You will encounter at least one of these, so be ready and handle it politely.

“How do you get your hair like that?” I often hear this question while standing in line. I’m not too savvy with quick comebacks since I spend a lot of time alone. I usually respond with a big smile and a response of “just takes a lot of practice”.

“Do you listen to Elvis?” Eye roll! Yeah, of course I listen to Elvis, but my musical interests are broad. I don’t ONLY listen to Elvis. I’ve hear this particular question asked only in a snide tone. Sometimes I answer with a “sure do”, sometimes it’s “I prefer [artist name], but Elvis is good”.

“Are you a stripper?” This is a little bit of a jump if you’re new to the game. There is a lot of rockabilly and burlesque crossover. Some people think that burlesque is just a fancy term for a stripper. It’s not. Burlesque is the performance art that focuses on “the big reveal” usually with comedic overtones.

Sex object misconception. Rockabilly is sometimes called “the pin-up look”. Some people think that if you are a pin-up, you therefore are a sex object. I haven’t had too many issues with this, but I recommend having a plan to shut that shit down. The funny part about this misconception is that clothing for the vintage lifestyle tends to be more conservative than modern clothing, but you slap on some make-up and curl your hair and somehow you become a sex object.

You’re better than others misconception. Being asked out happens in this world. As a single lady, it occasionally happens to me. I tend to say no. I’ve encountered men who get angry and accuse me of thinking I’m better than everyone. Other women have told me the same thing has happened to them. Our answers tend to be the same: it’s a no because you aren’t willing to function within the vintage lifestyle and we see you as blocking our road to happiness.

It costs a lot to be different misconception. Most of us know how to find things at reasonable costs. If you buy everything from Pin Up Girl Clothing or Collectif or Trashy Diva, it will get very expensive for you. Thrift stores, flea markets, online sales, antique stores, and good deals on vintage-acceptable items are the way to cut your prices down. If you have the skills, start sewing some of your own clothing. Spend money on quality shoes or a skirt that you can wear a hundred times or something practical.

Cars and Tats misconception. You do not need cars or tattoos to fit the lifestyle. That’s simple enough. You should, however, look into classic cars and have a favorite or two. You might really like bullet lights and big fins, you might be more of a rat rod person, or you might just like a classic Chevy Bel-Air.

Women didn’t wear pants misconception. It’s so aggravating to hear this. Yes, there were certain places women didn’t wear pants to, like school and church. The 1930s pants trends were usually wide-leg trousers or riding jodhpurs or loose peg-legged ski pants. The 1940s pants trends tended to be factory-oriented with overalls, dungarees, riding jodhpurs, and ski pants. The 1950s pants trends were slim trousers, pedal pushers, capri pants, loose stirrup pants, and dungarees.

The Disney connection. If you don't live near Disneyland or frequent Disneyland, it may come as a shock to you that there is a small Disney-rockabilly connection - the catch is that you have to be into the Disney stuff.  Please don't assume that everyone is into Disney.  A few years ago, some of the locals (in Fairbanks, Alaska) met up with some new folks who came up through the military - both California girls.  They started talking about Disney and the rest of us were like "what the fuck are you talking about?"  It made for some awkward pauses.  I was asked "what's your favorite Disney movie?"  I replied "Bedknobs & Broomsticks".  CRICKETS!  I was given confused stares.  The Disney connection is apparently strong for California and Florida, but also in states where you can easily drive to Disneyland or Disneyworld.  All the other states and countries really aren't into it, unless you just happen to be a big Disney fan.



Next: Living The Vintage Life: Dig Those Threads

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