The Evolution of Women’s Rockabilly Fashion

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“Well, my baby and me went out late Saturday night
I had my hair piled high and my baby just looked so right
Well-ell, pick you up at ten, gotta have you home at two
Mama don’t know what I got in store for you
But that’s all right, ’cause we’re looking as cool as can be”
“Rock This Town”
-Stray Cat

Rockabilly fashion is full of nostalgia. Curve-hugging dresses in bright cherry prints accessorized with curved-toe heels and floral hair accessories are all a part of what the public identifies as 1950’s Rockabilly style. What now is a signifier of “retro” style was actually a part of a rich music-based culture that continues to this day.

Rockabilly developed after the tight binds of World War II when fabric was scarce and fashion was on a major delay. The economy was rising and those raised during the War were becoming young adults, i.e. the newly found teenager. Next came subcultures that sought to rebel against their parents with arts like fashion and music. They were a generation that was more concerned about their appearance than abiding by the family.

The Rockabilly first evolved out of a Southern rock music genre that embraced casual clothing in a stylized manner. For young females, the beauty styles were ultra-feminine red lips and curled hair that was paired with separates like pegged jeans and pull-over sweaters, a first for its time. At night, women wore close fitting, sweetheart “wiggle dresses” with rounded toe heels.

Just like teens today, young females looked to the styles of famous actresses and performers. The ultra-feminine actress Jayne Mansfield became iconic in her tight sweater tops and cheetah-printed attire. Although considered a bad influence at the time, the pin-rolled hair and winged eyes of pinup Bettie Page serves as a prime example of  Rockabilly beauty.

This subculture resurged during the mid-2000’s with notorious singer and fashion icon Amy Winehouse. Winehouse’s signature look was defined in a black, towering beehive, dark winged eyeliner and tight, sweetheart-neckline clothing that’s sexy edge modernized the references.

During Winehouse’s reign, and quickly after her death, the fashion world showed their appreciation for her style through editorials and fashion shows at Jean Paul Gaultier’s Spring 2012 Couture season and Chanel’s 2008 Pre-Fall looks. This cemented Winehouse’s rockabilly icon status with the likes of Elvis and Ms. Page.

The modern Rockabilly has emerged into a subculture that includes plus-sizes and women of color. Unlike its teenage origins, the fashion of the Rockabilly has grown up into one fine Betty.


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