Want to get the Rockabilly look?
Fashions change at lightning pace these days but some retro outfits never go out of style.
Here are tips to help you stand out from the crowd with a unique Rockabilly ensemble.
The origins of the Rockabilly look
Rockabilly goes back to the very origins of rock ‘n’ roll.
In the early 50s, musicians were beginning to blend blues with country music to create the whole new sound that became rock ‘n’ roll. In the American south, musicians were also adding their unique blend of bluegrass style jazz to this new form.
The ‘uppity’ folks in the north referred to this music as ‘rockabilly’. The combination of ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ and ‘hillbilly’ was originally meant to be a slur. However, like so many slurs in the arts, it stuck and is now a proud moniker.
In the early days, the top Rockabilly icons were the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and James Dean. For female icons, look up Sparkle Moore, Amber Foxx and Brenda Lee.
As time went on, the Rockabilly look became more extreme, with certain elements like the pompadour hairdo pushed to its limits. For some truly out there inspo, check out Johny Depp and the other actors in John Waters’ film, Cry Baby.
In the 80s, the band the B-52s was pushing the Rockabilly look to interesting levels.
Rockabilly vs Pin up vs traditional 1950s
It can be hard to know if you’re nailing the Rockabilly look, particularly as the 50s were an amazing time for styles that have resonated through the decades.
To differentiate between Rockabilly and Pin-ups, consider that Pin-ups were designed as advertising employing subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) sexuality to sell products. This means it was a more risque version of traditional 1950s clothing.
Rockabilly, on the other hand, was about rebellion and attitude. You can imagine the parents of teens who sported the latest Rockabilly fashion shaking their heads in disapproval.
So traditional 50s is what you might think of as what everyday folk were wearing. Pin-up is provocative, with bolder makeup and tighter clothes. Rockabilly is about pushing boundaries and rebelling against conservative society.
Here are the essentials for any Rockabilly wardrobe:
Key Rockabilly look items for women
Swing dress: The swing dress is the quintessential Rockabilly frock. Stock up on these close waisted, flaring dresses. Skip the pastel flower designs and go for bold colours and designs (like this cheetah print) and halter necks.
Petticoat: A good quality petticoat to go underneath your full skirt is a must.
Headscarf or bandana: Think Rosie the Riveter but don’t be afraid to put your spin on it. Work to complement the colours in the rest of your outfit.
Sunglasses: Cat eye sunglasses or specs are the ultimate accessories for your Rockabilly look.
Cardigans/jackets: Go for a cropped cut. For a more rebellious look, rock a leather motorcycle jacket or imagine you’re wearing your bf’s letterman jacket.
Hair clips and flowers: Adorn your 50s style hairdo with hair clips and flowers to add a feminine touch.
In terms of colours, cherry red is a standout for this look. Black with white polka dots is also part of the signature rockabilly style.
Key Rockabilly look items for men:
Pompadour: Think Elvis hair, only more so. Your hair should be shorter at the sides and long enough on top to be swept forward and then back over itself. You’re going to need hair grease… just like in the musical!
Bowling shirts: Bowling shirts and other short-sleeved collared shirts are synonymous with the working-class origins of Rockabilly. Especially when worn with your jeans (see below).
Slim-cut jeans: Dark coloured jeans, preferably cuffed up.
Jackets: A letterman jacket or a motorcycle jacket will top off any Rockabilly look.
Sunglasses: For a classic Rockabilly look, you’re going to want wayfarers or clubmasters.
Suits: For an evening look, don’t be afraid to don a suit. Slim-fit suits are best. Roll up the cuffs on the trousers and pair them with boots for an extra touch.
Find that rockin’ Rockabilly look inspo
Pinterest is a great place to start for Rockabilly look inspiration.
A simple Google image search is also a treasure trove of cool and inspiring rockabilly gear.
And don’t forget, Rockabilly is also about the music. Turn up the Elvis and Buddy Holly. Check out some bands like The Stray Cats and The Cramps. And if you can play them on vinyl even better!
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