How to Dress Rockabilly
Rockabilly began as a type of music in the 1950s that combined rock ‘n’ roll and “hillbilly” or country music. Several distinctive styles lay claim to the rockabilly moniker--Greaser, Swinger and Western-style. Whether you want to embrace rockabilly music and culture or simply experiment with the look for a weekend, you'll find all you need to know right here.
Rockabilly Style for Men
Stock up on wardrobe essentials. It doesn't take a lot of pieces or a lot of money to put together a rockabilly wardrobe. The look is pure working-class Americana with some flashes of swinger-chic.
- Do it Dickies style. If there's one brand name synonymous with rockabilly style, it's Dickies. This line of work apparel offers basic pieces that speak to the rockabilly aesthetic. The classic rockabilly trousers are a pair of Dickies Original 874 work pants in black.
- Grab some denim. Slim-cut (not skinny) dark jeans are another wardrobe staple. Be sure to buy them a couple of inches longer than you need so you can cuff them up.
- Pick up a pack of T's. You can't go wrong sporting a thin white T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up and the hem tucked in to your pants; this is a staple of the rockabilly "greaser" look. Pick up some work shirts and western shirts to add a little flair to your wardrobe.
Show up in a suit. For dressier occasions, choose a slim-fit suit to show rockabilly style with class. Check that the suit jacket has a skinny collar, two or more buttons and a higher waistline. A sharkskin suit with its high sheen is a true attention-getter, but a good quality suit will set you back more than a few bucks. Scour thrift and vintage stores for this classic suit; if it's in good shape, fits well or can be easily altered, snap it up. Western suits are another way to add variety to your wardrobe and can be found easily online and in specialty stores.
Jack up your look with a jacket. There are a variety of jackets that add that perfect layer of authenticity to a rockabilly look. Each will send a slightly different style message, so give it some thought and decide the right look for you.
- The letter jacket. Remember when Danny gave Sandy his letter jacket in "Grease?" Give yourself a slightly preppy rockabilly look by picking up a letter jacket. They're easy to find at flea markets and vintage and thrift stores and give you your chance to be the big man on campus.
- The motorcycle jacket. Yet another undisputed classic--the leather motorcycle jacket--is at the heart of the "greaser" look. Pick one up new or shop the thrift stores to score a well-worn but sturdy second-hand model.
Try on a wool tweed jacket. Convey a casual air with a wool tweed jacket. Look for a topper that features knit cuffs, collar and waist reasonably priced at thrift and vintage stores.
- The shop jacket. Wear the shop jacket to work on your hot rod--or to look like you do. Navy, black, gray and olive green are the classic colors, but you don't have to stick to that. If you truly want to rock it old school, find a jacket with a name patch or plan to add one to yours.
- The Western jacket. The Western jacket adds a little pizazz to your look. The style is slim with a banded waist and cowboy snaps and ornate stitching.
Refine your look with shoes and accessories. Shoes and accessories truly do complete your look and can solidify the direction of your style.
- Give 'em the boot. Worn work boots or motorcycle boots are a no-brainer choice for this look. If you're going for a more of a "swinger" style, pick up a pair of wing tips or oxfords. If you consider yourself a fashion daredevil, chose a pair of creepers. These thick-soled platform shoes have been described as "clunky" and "cinder block chic." They have roots in the punk scene but fit right into a rockabilly wardrobe, especially those that sport plaids, polka dots or flames. They should be easy to find--they're a major fall 2013 fashion statement.
- Accessorize to suit your style. Add a skinny tie with a tie tack or tie bar to a suit and consider a pair of cufflinks (think dice, hot rods or playing card motifs). Buddy Holly-style glasses (get clear lenses if your vision is 20/20)can give you a rockin' edge, and nothing complements a basic white T better than a pack of smokes rolled up in the sleeve.
Get the hair right. Perhaps the most popular men's hairstyle of the the 1950's--the pompadour--is the totally today look of a rockabilly man. When the style first became popular, men used cream to slick the hair down and give it a wet look, which earned them the nickname "Greasers."
- Wear a pompadour. GQ describes the pompadour as "Shorn on the sides and back, long enough on top to be swept forward and back onto itself, the whole thing looks like one big, bold whoosh! sound effect."
- To get your pompadour on, be sure your hair is cut properly--short on the sides and in the back with a top that starts short in the back and gets longer as the hair moves forward.
- Rub some pomade or wax in your hands to warm it up and slick the product evenly through the sides and back of your hair. Comb the sides back and the back straight down; keep the hair as close to the scalp as possible.
- Warm up some more wax and apply it to the top of your hair. Create a side part by combing this section in a diagonal starting from the back and working toward the front. Flip the front up and back to give it some height.
Rockabilly Style for Women
Stock up on wardrobe essentials. Rockabilly gals have a way of looking sexy but sweet, combining some girls-only pieces with items that look like they came from their boyfriend's closet.
- Show some skin. Wear a classic halter top or dress (no tanks or spaghetti-strap styles) that ties at the neck or features thick straps and a sweetheart neckline or ruching at the bust. You can find vintage versions in resale shops or new styles made modern with fabrics that have cherry, tropical or even skull designs. They're a great way to show off and yet soften the look of tattooed skin.
- Rock a high waist. High-waisted pencil skirts and ankle-length pants have a retro, rockabilly feel, especially when paired with a menswear-style dress shirt with rolled up sleeves and a knot tied in the front.
- Let it swing. A full skirt with some "swing" to it offers a lot of versatility to a rockabilly wardrobe. The Rockabilly wrap dress is a must for dancing--the skirt will flow with every step, twist and turn. To turn a rockabilly guys head, choose a Sweetheart dress, which a full skirt, a fitted and belted waist and a lightly puffed sleeve that falls to about the elbow. One bit of warning--stay away from the poodle skirt. You'll look like you're wearing a costume rather than embracing an alternative style.
Refine your look with shoes and accessories. Stay true to the style but add your personal stamp to the look with shoes and accessories. The things you'll need are timeless, which makes them easy to find and gives you lots to choose from.
Step up your style. Shiny black or red Mary Janes in a flat or high heel can work with almost all rockabilly gal looks. For a more preppy, casual look, choose loafers or saddle shoes with or without bobby socks or a pair of Converse All Stars.
Choose finishing touches. Consider tattoo-inspired necklaces, leopard print or hounds-tooth purses, headbands and small classic earrings. For another way to enhance that sexy-but-sweet vibe, add a flower to your hair;go with a red rose or a large vibrant flower that matches the color of your outfit.
Get the hair right. If you choose a classic rockabilly hairstyle, you can go two ways--stick strictly to the look or modernize a bit by following the style but making everything looser and using lighter-weight styling products.
- Try a feminine version of the pompadour. While the pompadour hairstyle has come to be most closely associated with men, never forget that it was named after a woman (Madame de Pompadour). If you have longer hair, pull it up into a high ponytail and wrap it around a large-barrel curling iron for 30 or so seconds to create a spiral. Then, back-comb your bangs and pin the ends down near your ponytail to create the pomp. You can also create a pompadour front and add a large flower barrette to finish off the look. Short-haired gals can wear a pompadour just like their male counterparts (see directions above) or create a pin-curl look a la Rizzo in "Grease."
- Embrace the '40s. 1940s hairstyles are worn by rockabilly fans more then 1950s styles. Betty Page and her victory rolls are seen everywhere at rockabilly concerts and events.
Make makeup the finishing touch. The rockabilly look comes with a distinctive makeup style so proper application is key to an authentic appearance.
Create a clean canvas. Use a liquid or cream foundation to even out your complexion and dust it lightly with finishing powder. Apply blush sparingly on your cheekbones rather than the apples of your cheeks.
- Create a cat eye. The cat eye defines the makeup look for a rockabilly gal. The process of creating the cat eye may seem a little overwhelming at first--there are a number of steps--but you'll get better and faster with practice. Or you may decide to short-cut the steps a bit to create a modified version of the look.
- Gently pull your eyelid up and line the inner rim with a few coats of jet-black waterproof pencil. Then line the inner rim of your lower lash line and finally your upper lash line. Blend color into lashes with an angled brush.
- With a black liquid-liner pen, make four evenly spaced dashes over the pencil line on your upper lash line and connect them.
- Close your eye and use your finger to trace along the crease of your upper lid, moving outward. When it meets the bony part of your eye, mark the spot with a dot of liquid liner. Place the tip of the liquid-liner pen on the dot and drag it to the outer corner of your eye, thickening the line as you go. This creates the "winged" look of the cat eye.
- Once the liner is dry, dab your lid with a cream-colored liquid eye shadow. Use a metallic version on the area just above your crease line and inner corner. The metallic shadow updates the look, and the liquid formula stands up well to heat.
- Finish with two coats of black mascara or a pair of false eyelashes.
- Be the lady in red. Outline your lips using a red lip pencil. To keep the look from being dated, just use the pencil to define your "cupid's bow" and the center of your bottom lip. Apply a bright red lipstick with a blue (cool) undertone and a matte finish.
- Shop at consignment and second-hand stores, garage sales, and vintage auctions. This is the best way to find true rockabilly fashions.
- Talk to someone who is old enough to remember when rockabilly was big. Look through your library's catalog for books about the era and surf the net for rockabilly websites. Try to get a feel for the over-all look. Pay attention to the way that clothes were worn and hair was styled.
- Style icons for men include: Elvis Presley, James Dean, Chris Isaak, Lyle Lovett, Stray Cats, and more.
- Take it the extra mile by using rockabilly slang. Here's a few suggestions, followed by translations:
- Cat--a hip person.
- Long Green--money.
- Dolly--cute girl.
- Go to gigs and weekenders and actually see what those on the rockabilly scene are wearing then go and visit the vintage clothing stalls who will also point you in the right direction.
- Style icons for women include: Rosie the Riveter, Rizzo and Cha Cha DiGregorio in "Grease," Heather Graham in "Swingers," Kat von D., Gwen Stefani, Amy Winehouse, and more.
- You can find handmade and vintage hair accessories online at sites such as Etsy which has shops like Bustling Blossoms that feature flower headbands, clips, and bobby pins as well as hair accessories with other unique items.
- Listen to Rock N' Roll music (rockabilly). Check out Buddy Holly, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, Charlie Feathers and Jumpin' Gene Simmons.