When I was thirteen, my teenage crush on John Travolta following the discovery of Grease became responsible for generating the interest to see Pulp Fiction, considering it was supposed to be the next best thing in his career. While the film carried a very firm ‘R’ rating, the only person to accompany me to a viewing was my sister, who could not have been more than fifteen at the time. My mother dropped us off at a theater a few towns from where we lived, which was quite old and used to be a massive single screen palace. The attendant at the ticket box ensured that she approved of us purchasing tickets, and moments later we were finding seats inside. The environment of the theater itself was amazing, partly due to the architecture that was reminiscent of how it must have been before the transformation, and the acoustics were amazing, so that certainly added to the overall atmosphere. After the usual fanfare of advertisements, coming attractions and other things that generally precede a movie, the opening scene pretty much solidified the fact that we had made our way into something that minors definitely were not supposed to see on their own, never mind in a theater that was mostly empty. What followed was a film that introduced me to surf music, classic cars, drugs, violence, excessive cursing and the idea that body piercing can be done with a needle instead of a gun. The whole date between Vincent and Mia [particularly their dinner at Jack Rabbit Slim's] was something my young mind found romantic, and I enjoyed that her television character had a back story which mentioned vaudeville and knife throwing, both of which are elements of general Circus culture. In short, the movie played an important role in generating curiosity of certain things which I feel are still a part of me now.
My mother was a fan of I Love Lucy, and as a result I often wanted to portray the role of a glamorous housewife. After all, she always worked hard to make herself and her home look their best, had an active social life along with a best friend and took delight in an evening on the town. While I understand that stereotyped gender roles are ridiculous and actually living in certain time periods seem far more fabulous when fantasized about versus the struggles that many people had to endure, I also feel that fashion should not have to suffer for the wrongs of the past and so find I still love many of the outfits featured on Lucy and Ethel. My father contributed to my fondness for certain genres of music, as I recall he usually listened to the same radio stations that played what I now know was rockabilly and doo-wop. This combined with my purchase of the Pulp Fiction soundtrack later in life and a slight interest in a band called the Stray Cats who had this wild video on MTV, is what I consider to have also enriched my aesthetics when it comes to clothing and general style.
Forecasting the future of fashion is nothing new, nor is hunting down vintage pieces that can be cherished and usually come with an intriguing story of how one came to possess it. As examined in previous Carny Style articles, there are ways of utilizing various influences when applying them to a wardrobe. Specifications are made so that those searching for simple solutions have an easier time recognizing pieces congruent with their style, and because they certainly aid in forming a base on which to build one’s own signature look. Trends are in a constant cycle, and while it is always encouraged to take advantage of the availability of certain items, they should never fully dictate or define Self. After all, labels are for jars and clothes, not my personality or character.
A woman is not afraid to openly display her taste for luxury, and I feel that a halter neck dress from Vivien of Holloway is an excellent way to do so. Their signature 1950s style is featured here in a radiant red satin with black spiderweb detailing which appeals to my love of classic horror movies with a kitschy flare, done in a way that makes it appropriate for a starlet of the silver screen. If one favors something that is tailored more to hug the curves of a figure, then the Feather Motifs on Cheery Cherry by Whirlingturban is more than capable of satisfying the role of being a classic garment, as it carries a ’50s Hawaiian inspiration and comes with matching collared bolero. Those seeking to capture the radiance of a traditional pinup can channel glamour reminiscent of a Litchenstein illustration can do so with the red and white striped cotton Real Neat dress by Elvgren, a small label that is available via Bettie Page Clothing, which true to its name carries a large variety of vintage pinup inspired clothing. Something with just as much punch and yet with a feminine modern edge is the Fancy Vamp Pinup Dress from Mode Merr, which is another one of those designs that will accentuate flaws as much as it does a finely toned body, so exercise discretion when selecting a cut that is going to best flatter you. Pinup Girl Clothing has been a long time source for apparel with a vintage aesthetic, as they provide access to a number of different lines that each have something special to offer. Currently there are many items on sale, such as the Evelyn Dress in red and blue rose print, which has a matching reversible bolero and is something I have had my eye on for quite a while. Divas that are seeking to be well-dressed on a tight budget can do so with the Vera Dress in red with large black polka dots by Hell Bunny, which is one of the few patterns that I approve on for dresses that claim vintage inspiration. Cherry print, on the other hand, is something I have yet to actually see on a dress from the 50s, and therefore is definitely not on said list.
This garment is just as important as the one it coordinates with, as it can either act as a stunning accessory to an already scintillating dress, or a barrier against ruthless inclement weather, allowing one to build up anticipation before revealing what lies beneath it. Recently I was fortunate to come across a piece I have long coveted, that being a faux fur shrug, which embraces the extravagance of fur without all that horrible animal cruelty. Though mine is a creamy off-white with a slight sparkle to the fur and was purchased locally at Ross, it is definitely something I highly suggest as a wardrobe staple. Another item that can be added to that catalogue is a vintage Cashmere or Angora sweater [I have one of each in black and violet respectively, both of which were found in local thrift stores], which might invite a curious stroke or two from that dashing gentleman you have had your eye on all evening. For knitwear that is worthy of being promoted by Dita Von Teese, in a collaboration with Wheels and Dollbaby, comes this beautiful Rose Embroidered Cardi, presented in a collectible box which includes a photo of the burlesque legend wearing the cardigan. A faux fur leopard print swing coat has been my ideal shield from brutal East Coast snow of epic proportions for so long that I no longer even know why it appeals to me, other than the pattern is often associated with vintage style and is certainly useful when the need to safeguard an expensive outfit arises.
Footwear certainly does not have to be excluded when one is aiming to assemble an eye-catching ensemble, and I have suggested quite a few styles of Bordello shoes in the past, so they get another mention for this guide as well. They are worth the price and range from an updated version of classic Mary Jane’s to rhinestone encrusted pumps – they do run a bit small so keep that in mind before placing an order. Those who are already familiar with the brilliant graphics that Iron Fist shoes boast will know that they are an ingenious way to add flair to standard vintage or pinup accoutrements; their Man’s Ruin pumps feature a tattoo inspired print against a nude [or white] background and are accented with red vinyl. However, the holy grail of shoes that I have truly lusted after since discovering the joy of all that is tiki and its related culture, an item I would readily sell whatever was needed to obtain a pair of – Lucky Lou Shoes, represented here in the Hibiscus heel with black leather strap. The beauty of the craftmanship in the carved details alone should have an altar built in its honor, and wearing them would certainly stir up feelings of being a goddess. Another company with generally fantastic shoes is T.U.K., and with their selection including styles such as these black and red pointed pinup heels, these black and red leopard high heel court shoes and these whimsically kitschy black platforms with anchor/heart and stripe details, there is something to suit everyone’s tastes.
Once an outfit has been assembled, it is important to fully embrace the inspiration one is drawing from by expressing it properly through hair and makeup. There are plenty of tutorials that can easily be found with a quick search, as well as suggestions of products to use in order to achieve specific looks that have appeared in past Carny Style articles which cover the latter subject. For the final part of this guide, I present the Cardinal Rule that should be applied when making an attempt at executing any vintage hairstyle – NO HOLES. A woman obviously takes pride in her appearance, and while I understand that going to the beauty salon is a social event that seems to have lost significant in a time where an individual can easily perform the same task at home. However, keeping on theme of presentation that is nothing short of opulent, tresses should be manipulated with the greatest of care in order to achieve what I would consider a successful style. Perfection may not actually exist, but it is entirely unacceptable to have huge gaps in coiffures that are meant to be tight and neat. The amount of times I have seen poorly executed victory rolls that look more akin to a Micky Mouse souvenir hat than gravity-defying sculptures is as hilarious as people who still believe that cutting their fringe straight across transforms them into Bettie Page. If skills are not a strong point, practice or enlist the help of a friend – otherwise expect to be laughed at because I am tired of half-assed attempts that are labeled ‘vintage’ simple because it adds another notch to ye olde scene whore belt. In general, hair should be within the same era as clothing, and there is a number of styles which are deemed acceptable, such as victory rolls, finger waves, pincurls, updos, bumper bangs, loose curls, sleek ponytails, various other rolls and the use of a snood. There are also plenty of things one can use to enhance their luxurious locks, such as hats, fascinators, hair flowers, bows, decorative hair pins and other assorted accessories that coordinate with the overall look. Remember to keep these and additional ornaments simple and at a minimum to avoid a cluttered appearance.
In closing, the last piece of advice that I have followed myself throughout my evolution of personal style, is that while labels are applied to specific items in order to make them marketable to as large of a customer base as possible, using these same terms to define myself feels limiting. While I will not deny my interest in certain things, I do not feel that I need to constantly use them to justify how dedicated I am to them. Maybe that is because I was taught to make a scene rather than be caught up in trying to be a part of it, and I would rather put my effort into acquiring pieces due to the fact they fit my aesthetics. This way I have a nice variety of items that are both new and vintage – while they certainly capture the essence of my personality, I am not portraying another character, just myself.
Photo credit: 2 – movieposter.com, 3 – fanpop.com, 4 – vivienofhalloway.com
5 – dressingvintage.com, 6 – luckyloushoes.com, 7 – bobbypinblog.blogspot.com