Nothing is Old – A Few Reflections on Gothic Rockabilly and Eternal Style

“Ugh, __insert formerly marginal style subset__ .That’s so over.”

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As Kate Beaton has shown to great comic effect, even hipsters are not anything new. With that said, my heart did sink just a little bit when there was a “Steampunk” photoshoot on America’s Next Top Model. I still remember a girlfriend in high school having a snit-fit when she saw cropped jackets in stores a few months after she scooped one up second-hand.

When you love one of those niche, “original” styles, there is a real sense of disappointment when that style transitions into the mainstream. I want to get a better handle on why.

Working through my big pile of readings for the comprehensive exams, I began to reflect on how all aesthetic movements are essentially a re-hash; people are constantly referencing their predecessors (whether consciously or not).

Kat Sark has made some really interesting observations about the specifics of place and style – looking at how some cities invite a specific kind of chic in fashion and how they evolve over time. With that said, there are also just some styles (especially from the 20th century) that just keep coming back.

About 5 years ago, I started to make a conscious transition to a slightly vintage-infused look. This coincided with me teaching classes at a university, and finding that dresses were more comfortable and easy to style in a professional way. I also became a daily make-up wearer, because I liked being able to change my face.Over time, this look became more pronounced – especially in the last two years, with me going blonde and growing my hair longer.

At this point, my style sits pretty squarely in Hitchcock-heroine territory (high necklines, hourglass shape, monochromatic outfits, high heels, cat’s eye sunglasses… etc.). I like to do pin-curls (an easy 1920s curling technique) or simple chignons. Yes, I am a film buff, and old movies are what inform my style.

20141209_183914[1]The reactions to this look have been mixed, with many people commenting that I look “very dressed up” which is complimentary (especially since I only ever buy my clothing on sale) or “sexy,” which I do not take as a compliment (my clothing is is very tasteful and does not show a lot of skin, it is also not skin-tight).  I say all this by way of explanation for my love-hate relationship with Gothic Rockabilly.

I am sure that you have seen Gothic Rockabilly. That barista/girl at the bookstore with Bettie Page bangs, cat’s eye glasses and tattoos? Yep. The hacker chick on Criminal Minds (and most other crime dramas in a similarly niche or quirky part)? Ish. If your style is “vintage” like mine, you tend to get grouped in with Rockabilly, which is not necessarily a bad thing… except.

To me, Rockabilly tends towards a costume look, which I used to resent when applied to what I considered “timeless chic.” People describe it as “unique” or “quirky” and yet always know someone else “who dresses just like that.” “Real” rockabilly girls are scandalised when I explain that I don’t buy actual vintage (I only have a couple hand-me-downs from by grandmother, who was a whiz-bang professional seamstress, and pieces she made for my own mother) because I am too tall and, honestly, chubby (not a lot of modern size 8s in vintage – which would be more like a 12, back then). I used to pout about it, thinking gee, I thought I was unique and timeless, but the truth is, this is nothing new.

Vampira: Dark Goddess of Horror by W. Scott Poole points out that the 1950s were a lot groovier than you might have thought. Sure, there was Leave it to Beaver (1957-1963), but there was also Dig it, Vampira (1954-1955). Even earlier, there was Charles Addams’ Addams Family cartoon in the New Yorker (1938-1988). Basically, people have been fusing old styles with Gothic moodiness for a really long time. Thus the Pre-Raphaelite Romantics of the 1800s were re-mixed and glammed up by the 1980s New Romantics.


Dante Rosetti called it. Yeah girl, you tease that 80s hair.

Basically, at the end of the day, no style that you come up with is original. I say, just go with your instinct. Dress the way you like, wear what you think looks good on you. Don’t worry, it’ll be back in style at some point, and future generations will marvel at your fashion foresight and trendiness.