If you like old school rock and roll or vintage clothing chances are that you probably like or have at least heard of rockabilly.
By definition rockabilly refers to a style of music from the 1950s that fused together early forms of rock and roll with other genres such as country, western swing and rhythm and blues – all originating from the south western states of America. However, the term ‘rockabilly’ can be applied much more broadly – referring usually to the look or lifestyle created by those who look to the late-1940s, 1950s and early 1960s for inspiration.
Undoubtedly the most famous rockabilly musician of all was Elvis Presley. With his style of rock and roll combined with that scandalous hip thrusting Elvis soon became every teenager’s dream and every parent’s nightmare: girls wanted to date him and guys wanted to be him.
However other famous rockabilly musicians included Bill Haley and the Comets, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash.
Nowadays the stars of rockabilly may not be so recognisable but the genre is still well and truly flourishing. Notable examples of modern rockabilly musicians include Australian band The Living End and American crooner Chris Isaac. Other modern rockabilly bands have very large underground followings include The Four Aces and Imelda May.
There is no quintessential rockabilly ‘look’ – those who consider themselves part of the rockabilly subculture can range from those who dress in authentic vintage clothing from top to toe, or those who wear reproduction or inspired garments with their sleeves of tattoos.
Historically the rockabilly look during the 1950s was also varied. Girls who were less adventurous or from more strict families usually wore a full skirt or dresses puffed out by crinolines, flat shoes and ponytails. While those more daring would wear bright lipstick, tight pencil skirts, sweaters and bold colours and prints (think Jane Mansfield). Men usually wore jeans, sometimes rolled up and ‘cuffed’ at the bottom. Shirts, sweaters and jackets could be simple in style and colour, or really bold colours and patterns; the two toned country-style shirt was also popular, as were leather jackets. The type of fashion that was worn usually depended on what social strata you were from.
However the modern ‘look’ is usually vintage inspired, with clothing, hairstyles and makeup drawing inspiration mainly from 1950s.
For women, rockabilly makeup is usually very bold and bright, drawing mainly from the makeup of the 1950s – matte skin, full red lips and exaggerated cat eyeliner. Clothing is usually 50s and early 60s inspired – tight pencil skirts/capris and tight dresses for the more daring, full skirted dresses for others. Polka dots are a must. Hairstyles range in historical inspiration, from the victory rolls of the 1940s to betty page bangs of the 1950s. Bandanas and colourful flowers worn in the hair are also popular.
For men the modern look is usually defined by cuffed blue jeans, vintage western shirts, and leather jackets; pompadour hairstyles and old-school sailor tattoos are also very popular.
Notable rockabilly or rockabilly in-spired brands include Pin Up Clothing, Grease, Gas and Glory; or if you want something more close to home, Australian brands like Miss Lulu Clothing and Wheels and Dollbaby are must sees.
Although there is no definable rockabilly lifestyle, there are some really great events held every year by those in the rockabilly community or those with similar interests.
In Sydney, the Sydney Rock ‘n Roll & Alternative Markets are a great place to find some vintage or vintage inspired clothing, to listen to some great rockabilly bands, see vintage cars and eat some great food.
A 50s Fair at the Rose Seidler House is held every year by the Historic Houses Trust complete with live swing and rockin’ hillbilly bands, DJs, dancing and vintage vehicle displays. The Love Vintage Show is also held twice a year in Sydney where dealers of antique, retro and vintage clothing from all over NSW come to display their wares or give workshops.