What is Rockabilly Fashion?
Rockabilly Photographer Megan Rizzo explain the culture
Just what IS rockabilly?
Well, according to Wikipedia, “Rockabilly is one of the earliest styles of rock and roll music, and emerged in the early-1950’s. The term “rockabilly” is a portmanteau of “rock,” from rock and roll, and “hillbilly”, the latter a reference to the country music (often called “hillbilly music” in the 1940s and ’50s) that contributed strongly to the style’s development. Other important influences on rockabilly include Western Swing, blues music, boogie woogie, and Jump blues. Although there are notable exceptions, its origins lie primarily in the Southern USA.”.
Rockabilly is generally considered to have been popular just from the early 50’s to early 60’s, though once its influence reached the mainstream it never truly went away. Several rockabilly revivals have taken place within the music industry over the years, most notably in the 80’s with the popularity of the Stray Cats.
But why does rockabilly matter to fashion? What is the rockabilly “look”? That’s a question often pondered by both sellers and buyers of vintage clothing, and the answer is a little more complicated than the one above. As any genre of music has done over the years, rockabilly had a strong influence on fashions on the 50s to early 60s which have evolved into a more complex definition in today’s fashion world.
What rockabilly was to the traditional sensibilities of mainstream music of the late 40s to early 50s, rockabilly fashion was to the buttoned up, conservative look of the post war era. The wholesome pin up girl of the 40s had given way to the more racy Bettie Page types…..B-movies saw a gain in popularity andpulp fiction novel covers were inspiring the youth of America to add a little spice to their wardrobe.
Watching the film “West Side Story” quickly defines the two commonly seen looks within the rockabilly scene. The youth of early 50s America were quick to embrace the sounds of rockabilly, but just as easily as social standing was defined by what side of the tracks you lived on, the looks were just as dramatically interpreted by the two social classes.
For girls, the look was full skirt dresses with lots of crinolines, flats or low heels and ponytails. It was an exaggerated version of the adult’s 50’s look with a girlie edge….while these girls weren’t willing or able to channel their inner B-movie girl with teased hair and bright red lipstick, bold prints and bright accessories.
Those who’s economic and social backgrounds allowed them more leeway in the realm of rebellion took the rockabilly look to its limit. Crazy colors (pink! for men!) and patterns could be seen in menswear, 2tone shirts and jackets, atomic or novelty prints made a huge splash- just not with your average joe. We’re familiar with what a “ricky jacket” is, but it’s actually quite a misnomer. Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy was seen wearing a 2 tone jacket once on the show, yet a whole era of rock and roll fashion was dedicated to this. The upper middle class man didn’t wear such loud and crazy clothing~ you never saw Ward Cleaver or even your average dad in Anycity, USA sporting something like that.
Everyday wardrobe could include engineer boots which were a natural choice for hot rodders and bikers and the leather jackets to match, thanks to movies like The Wild. Girls had their turn in showing off their bad side and shunned full skirts and dresses which hid the body. They opted for the scandalous pencil skirt and tight sweater which didn’t leave much for the imagination and stiletto heels were the final mankilling touch. While most girls then didn’t know of Bette Paige, they did get their naughty fashion inspiration at the movies with the likes of Jayne Mansfield in full glory with springolators in tow.
While rockabilly was a fairly narrow window of time and a style not readily “defined” by those wearing it as a specifically identifiable look, it is easy to see looking back what types of clothing contributed to what we now refer to as rockabilly. Just as all clothing from the 20s is not considered a “flapper” look, not all clothing from the 50s to early 60s is considered rockabilly. It was an influential look unique to the time & unique to itself that has inspired fashion designers and vintage fans in the many years since.
Thankyou to The Vintage Fashion Guild.
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